by Gary Inbinder
Gérard de Lairesse, Selene and Endymion
The young woman smiled at the shrinking man. “Are you going to Giove and Juno’s party, too?”
“Yes, I am,” Endymion replied. He eyed her furtively, wishing he were somewhere else.
The man introduced the couple. “I’m Tony Boykin, and this is my wife, Ginger. Are you a member of Giove’s firm, or a friend of Juno?”
Endymion shook the man’s smooth, smallish hand. “Endymion Shepherd-Hunter. No, Giove and I are college pals.” Endymion taught a community college art appreciation course and earned as much in one year as Giove’s junior associates made in two weeks, a fact that contributed to his social discomfort.
The elevator stopped and the trio entered the penthouse vestibule. Ginger chirped, “Oh, please hold on a moment, will you? We forgot to put on our masks.”
Endymion retrieved a Pierrot mask from his breast pocket, while Ginger donned a gem-encrusted moiré silk butterfly and Tony a sinister Scaramouche. Black tie and semi-formal gowns may have been optional at the Regnator’s New Year’s Eve party, but masks were not.
Ginger’s stiletto heels clicked on black and white checkerboard marble as she and Tony stepped eagerly toward smiling servants waiting to check their coats. Endymion fell behind as he scanned abstract expressionist artwork ornamenting the white, spotlighted walls. He took a moment to admire the Regnator’s latest acquisition, an aluminum and blue-Plexiglas vagina mounted on a steel phallus. He recognized Selene’s work and assumed she would attend the party.
He checked his overcoat and strolled down a corridor past roped-off rooms, to the penthouse art gallery. The hall echoed with the murmuring of guests, the clatter of trays laden with wine glasses and appetizers, and a stream of sonority flowing from a string quartet playing Mozart.
Endymion dreaded this posh crowd; they bored him to tears. He kept in touch with his wealthy friends in hope that there might be something in it for him — something more glamorous than community-college teaching. He fancied a job as the well-paid managing editor of a trendy art magazine. But the position of well-kept companion to a Gold Coast diva might have better suited his indolent nature.
“Well, now Endymion’s arrived, it’s a party.” Giove extended his hand as he smiled behind a golden sunburst mask that would have pleased Louis XIV. Endymion returned Giove’s handshake, and then glanced at Juno.
Mrs. Regnator wore a velvet cat mask studded with seed pearls and rhinestones, and a Chinese silk-print dress slit high to show off her shapely, spa-waxed and tanned legs. Juno extended a feline paw, leaned forward and kissed air. “How nice of you to come.” She pricked Endymion’s hand with her blood red fingernails while inquiring of Tony and Ginger: “I believe you’ve already met.”
Endymion nodded at the Boykins — they acknowledged him with smarmy smiles. Then he sighed with relief as Juno retracted her claws.
Juno’s scarlet lips curled upward, displaying sharp, cosmetically whitened teeth. “Selene, of course, you already know.”
Endymion turned to the young artist he indeed knew — perhaps too intimately for comfort. He smiled, held out his hand and flinched when she came forward and embraced him. A cat mask almost identical to the one Juno wore half-covered Selene’s luminous face. Endymion relaxed in her arms, tranquilized by the soft contours of her body. “It’s good to see you again, Selene,” he whispered. “I noticed one of your creations on display in the vestibule. An interesting piece. Has it a name?”
“Yes, I call it Destiny.”
Endymion grinned. “A perfect title and I’m pleased to see that Giove and Juno acquired and displayed it with their usual good taste.”
“Thank you, Endymion,” Juno replied. “Selene is our favorite young artist. We believe Destiny is her breakthrough work.”
Endymion thought: It’s at least as good as the plastic sex toys on display in the best Clark Street adult bookstores, though pricier. He turned to Giove and tried to read the intentions lurking behind his friend’s mask. Did he and Juno want to see Endymion and Selene together again, and if so, why?
Giove beamed. “Endymion, you and Selene are two of our favorite people, isn’t that right, Juno?”
“Absolutely, darling, everyone knows that.” When Juno said “everyone,” she meant those among her Olympian society whose opinion mattered.
Selene turned to Juno and Giove, as though on cue. “Would you please excuse us? We won’t be long.”
“Of course, dear,” Juno replied. She glanced in the direction of the observation deck. “Just be sure you return in time for the midnight unmasking.”
Endymion had a queasy moment, like a mouse who had stumbled upon a group of smirking cats. Selene grasped his hand and led him in the direction of the observation deck stairway.
The enclosed deck had a panoramic view of Lake Shore Drive — to the northeast, Oak Street beach, Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park, and to the south the Water Tower and the glittering North Michigan Avenue skyline. Large snowflakes were drifting, and Endymion’s consciousness seemed to float within a glass snow-dome.
Selene lit a cigarette and tapped her foot impatiently. She turned away from Endymion and exhaled a cloud of tobacco smoke in the direction of her plate-glass reflected image.
Her sudden show of petulance pricked him like a thorn. “Why are we here?” he muttered.
Selene took the cigarette from her glossy lips, stared directly into Endymion’s eyes and pouted. “Why have you been avoiding me?”
“Because whatever there was between us is over, and you know why.”
“No, I don’t. I want to hear it from you.”
“What you want is a perfect reflection of yourself.”
“That’s not fair. You knew that from the beginning.”
* * *
They had met in April while playing The Lost City game, a Regnator-organized Chicago Gold Coast scavenger hunt. Giove and Juno had paired Selene and Endymion, and their penultimate stop on the quest had been Persephone’s Cave, a tony near north-side club.
A clue led to Persephone’s Cave: “Journey east to the eerie street where the moon goddess and her sisters meet, but first repair to fair Juno’s retreat.” Selene was of course the “moon goddess” and Persephone’s was on East Erie. Endymion and Selene stopped at the Regnator’s penthouse for a makeover so that Endymion might pass by Cerberus, the bouncer guarding Persephone’s Cave.
When Endymion learned what was in store for him, he balked. “I’m sorry, Selene, this is too weird for me.”
Selene giggled. “C’mon, Endymion, don’t be a spoil-sport. Persephone’s has a strict women-only rule. Just think Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. Besides, we’re almost at the finish line. If you wimp out now, we’ll lose.”
Endymion decided to go along. Giove and Endymion had remained friends largely because of Endymion’s good sport attitude. He was the loyal sidekick who helped plot the master’s adventures, watched his back, joined in the fun and never judged or criticized.
Endymion’s metamorphosis took place in the Regnator’s spa. He undressed and submitted to attendants and cosmetologists who transformed him under the critical eyes of Juno and Selene. The treatment began with a close shave and full body wax.
The head cosmetologist, a transsexual who owned an exclusive day spa called Ganymede’s Hideaway, said, “He’s a perfect subject. Fair, not too tall, slight build, light beard and sparse body hair. He’ll make an adorable girl.”
“We’ll be the judge of that,” Juno proclaimed, and she meant the royal “we.”
“Oh, of course Mrs. Regnator,” the cosmetologist replied.
Endymion endured the procedure — shaving, wax, make-up, manicure, pedicure and the fitting of a curly-blonde wig — in stoical silence. He occasionally glowered in response to Selene and Juno’s giggles.
The makeover completed, Juno and Selene dressed Endymion in pink silk lingerie, pantyhose, tasteful costume jewelry including pearl clip-on earrings, comfortable mid-heel pumps, and a stylish pantsuit. Selene spritzed her favorite perfume, Moon Madness, on Endymion’s throat and behind his ears, presented him with a Gucci handbag and led the new Galatea to a full-length, three-way mirror.
Juno followed. “She’s a performance art masterpiece, but I think our creation needs a name. What shall we call her?”
“I like Aurora,” Selene replied.
“Oh, yes. The dawn — that’s most appropriate.” Juno approached Endymion from behind, coming so close that she brushed his back with her erect nipples. She looked over his left shoulder and smiled at his reflected image.
Endymion remained oblivious to her as he gazed bemusedly at his transformed reflection.
Annoyed by his inattentiveness, Juno gave his buttocks a couple of firm pats followed by a sharp squeeze that shattered his reverie. She slid her hand up his hip and side to the back of his neck and toyed with a few stray hairs below the wig-line. “How do you like your other self?” she whispered. “You seem to admire her as much as I do.” Juno licked his black pearl ornamented earlobe.
Endymion blushed through his make-up. He pushed Juno back and turned to a sniggering Selene. “I’m not sure I like Aurora. How about calling her Luna, as in lunatic?”
“Are there any loonies about? I’ll admit we’re all a bit moonstruck in Selene’s presence.” Giove entered and the spa reverberated with his laughter. The attendants and cosmetologists added a chorus of titters.
“Well, Giove,” Juno inquired, “What do you think of our creation?”
“You’ve outdone yourselves. She looks like Selene’s twin sister. Has she a name?”
“Selene and I named her Aurora, but Endymion prefers Luna.”
Giove rubbed his chin for a moment before ruling: “Sorry, old boy. I vote for Aurora. One moon goddess is enough for this solar system.”
“Okay, fine, so I’ll be Aurora for an evening. Now, if you’ll excuse us, Selene and I will be off to Persephone’s Cave so we can finish your stupid scavenger hunt.”
“There’s nothing stupid about my scavenger hunt, and you’ll find that the prize is well worth the effort.”
“And is it such a terrible thing to be a pretty girl for an evening?” Juno interjected.
Endymion did not respond. “Let’s get this over with,” he hissed. He and Selene left with the sound of Olympian laughter echoing in their ears.
* * *
Persephone’s Cave had the ambiance of a traditional posh men’s club: polished oak and walnut panels, brass trim, dark leather chairs, thick carpets, and paintings of yachts, racehorses and classical nudes, lit by the soft yellow glow of Tiffany lamps in a haze of cigar and cigarette smoke. Conversation hummed lowly, accompanied by bursts of laughter, the tinkle of glasses and ice, the jangle of an old-fashioned cash register and an unobtrusive sound system playing light classics.
A young woman came to their table; Selene ordered a fine old cognac for Endymion, and Selene’s special Moon Goddess Cocktail. The server returned with the drinks and gave them their final clue. “Follow the river to the lofty height where the moon goddess dwells, and spend the night.”
They finished their drinks, left Persephone’s Cave and drove to Selene’s loft. Selene led Endymion through her dark studio past shadowy brick walls to a large picture window. She drew the heavy, opaque curtain and stood with her back to a view of the bridge, glimmering streetlights and the deep purple river.
“You’ve won Giove and Juno’s prize.”
“And what prize might that be?”
She kissed him and then whispered, “One night with the moon goddess.”
* * *
Sir Edward John Poynter,
The Vision of Endymion
Selene’s presence overwhelmed him and the memory of her body overcame his resistance. So what if this trendy diva was a bit kinky? She was beautiful, clever, talented, and best of all she enjoyed the Regnators’ patronage. “Sorry, Selene, you said that I was unfair, and that I understood the nature of our relationship from the beginning. You were right. I was thinking of the scavenger hunt, Persephone’s Cave and our first night together. I loved you then, and I still do.”
She smiled wistfully and stroked his cheek. “Do you, really? I think of little else but you these days.”
Endymion put his hand underneath her chin and gently drew her face toward his. He closed his eyes and kissed her lips. They embraced passionately until Endymion looked over her shoulder at his wristwatch. “We’d better go; it’s almost midnight.”
“Yes,” Selene sighed, “we mustn’t disappoint Giove and Juno.”
They unmasked at midnight. Endymion stared at Selene, transfixed by the image he had seen in Juno’s mirror — Aurora his other self. They clung to each other amid the drunken shoving and confusion, the shouts of “Happy New Year!” and the string quartet’s barely audible chorus of Auld Lang Syne. Endymion was so lost within Selene’s luminous aura that he failed to notice an interloper.
“Endymion, you’ll pardon us for a moment, won’t you? I need to speak to Selene alone. I promise we won’t be long.”
He shook his head as though waking from a deep sleep, and was surprised to see Ginger Boykin with her arm round Selene. Ginger glared back at him as they walked away.
“Yes...yes, of course,” Endymion stammered to their backs, though he doubted that they heard him over the racket. A hand touched his arm, and he turned to see Tony Boykin’s pudgy, plaintive, alcohol-flushed face.
“It’s a bit like gazing into the eyes of a tiger and petting its muzzle.”
Perplexed and annoyed, Endymion snapped at the little man. “I’m sorry, Boykin, I don’t quite follow you.”
Tony took a swig of his drink and shook his head. “Loving a goddess is like petting a tiger.” He sighed, then staggered toward the midnight carousers.
Endymion watched Boykin’s tuxedoed figure waddle like a disconsolate penguin until it disappeared into the crowd. He scanned the room, searching for Selene and Ginger. He saw them standing together in an isolated corner.
Ginger trembled and she wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. After a moment, she ran toward the gallery entrance. Selene did not follow her; she approached Endymion. He waited for her, and it was now apparent to him that Selene and Ginger had been lovers.
* * *
Selene and Endymion left the party shortly after midnight. Their taxi crawled through the snow-bound traffic. Selene held Endymion’s hand. He gazed at her, attempting to penetrate her inscrutable smile. What, he wondered, did Boykin mean about petting a tiger?
When they arrived at her loft, Selene flicked on the lights and Endymion noticed a painting mounted on an easel. “That’s new, isn’t it?”
“Yes, darling, it is, although I’ve been working on it, off and on, for some time. It’s almost finished. Why don’t you sit and have a look at it while I get us a drink. You prefer cognac?”
Endymion eased back onto a leather couch facing the picture. “Yes, thanks, cognac’s fine.” He studied the painting. The subject was the myth of Endymion. Selene based her version on an eighteenth-century work by the French painter Girodet. With the aid of a lubricious Cupid, Selene’s moonbeams ravished a dreaming androgynous male nude. The painting brought back memories of Juno’s spa, Aurora and Persephone’s Cave.
“Here’s your cognac, love.” Selene handed him the drink, and then curled up next to him on the couch.
Endymion took a sip and gazed into her luminous eyes, contemplating her with a mixture of desire and dread. “I’m like a drunken moon-viewer in a Japanese Garden. I see a reflection in a black, rippling pool; I long for the image, but I can’t grasp it. Is it my true self, or a malevolent doppelganger? If I reach too far, I might stumble, sink into my illusion and drown.” He looked back at the painting. “Am I your Ganymede?”
Selene ran her fingers through Endymion’s hair. “You’re more than that to me. You’re Aurora, my perfect reflection.”
Endymion rubbed his sleepy eyes and shook his bewildered head. He wanted to say something about loving illusions and petting tigers. Instead he mumbled, “I feel sorry for Ginger and Tony. You’re dangerous Selene, and cruel, like Giove and Juno.”
Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson,
The Sleep of Endymion
“And you let him watch?”
“Oh, yes, he’s the leering Cupid in my painting.”
Endymion yawned. In his last lucid moment, he questioned whether there was anything to keep him in this world, that is to say anything better than Selene’s offer of unconscious immortality. “Oh well,” he thought, “better a diva’s comatose sex toy than an untenured community college instructor.”
The brandy snifter fell from his hand, spilled its lees and shattered on the concrete floor. His eyes closed — his head rested on her small, soft breasts.
Copyright © 2011 by Gary Inbinder