“Evoe,” says the wild-haired nymph opening the door to Apartment 6-C. We stand bewildered in the foyer, expecting a Grecian den tucked away in Central Park or a sky rise built on ionic columns, not this classic New York place with fire escapes and all. “Welcome and evoe,” she says to us, “our word of worship and gratitude. We’ve been expecting you. Please, take off your shoes. He likes us to enjoy our dancing barefoot.” She smiles wickedly, her lips stained with a cabernet gloss. “Well, that and the downstairs neighbors complained up a storm last week.”
We take off our shoes and leave them in a heap by the door, and she leads us to the living room. Her own feet are tiny and delicate, and around one ankle is tied a string of silver bells which jangle musically as she walks. When we comment on the pretty noise, she says, “All the Maenads wear these,” and, though her smile seems a little sad, we will love this knowledge later when we need someone to refill our cups.
Inside, the hardwood floor has been laid with patchy carpets of moss, and the walls, originally painted “Weathered Sandstone,” are dripping with vines, ivy crawling up one side of the room and plump Savatiano grapes down the other. The energy-conserving light bulbs have been replaced with candles, and, where the television used to be, someone has installed a fountain of a lithe and naked naiad pouring out a pitcher into the pool below her. Tucked everywhere are the naiad’s marble and bronze friends, frozen in acts of revel. Here, a satyr with a lecherous grin. There, a musician with her stone lyre. They watch us with smirks as the night goes on, inexplicably changing places when we aren’t looking.
The furniture, arranged carefully by the landlord so he might charge a higher price for trendy, immediate living, has been left mostly the same: a chic leather sofa with matching armchair, a modern glass and chrome coffee table, the black Ikea bookcase catalogued as “Grevbäck” which fits neatly into a corner and is full of, not books, but an array of wine glasses, kylikes, amphorae, cups, tumblers, goblets, chalices, and flutes. We all rush toward Grevbäck, clamoring to get our favorite choice before someone else, but by midnight, we will be drinking straight from the bottles and decanters, and little things like etiquette will no longer matter.
But now, while everyone still has a cup, the Maenads float about, jingling and whispering “Evoe!” and leaving none of us without a brimful. One second too long and we snap our fingers impatiently until one of the pretty little things comes running, her bells singing against her ankle. We sip the liquid cure-all, eschewing in a feel-good haze our Vicodins and Percocets. The house wine is a deep red, thick and sweet and easy to pour down the throats of us willing worshippers. We drink it as we talk, sing, and kiss. We drink it as we undress one another. One of us lounging on the leather sofa drinks it as Maenads giggle and rub his feet with olive oil and honey. Another of us, a woman who is large with round, red cheeks, drinks as she pulls the ripe grapes off the vined wall and stuffs them into her mouth. We laugh at her and she laughs back and we spill on everything, even each other, filling the room with a heady smell of earth and wine until even the air is drunk and painting everything pink-purple-red.
Laughing, we keep laughing, and we are more happy than we ever remembered being before. We chuckle with mirth and giggle coyly and howl and guffaw and titter. We love everything and everyone and nobody isn’t touching somebody else somewhere. When someone falls into the fountain, we scream with laughter, even the girl now drenched, and we drizzle her with wine until the naiad’s pitcher is pouring pink. The girl chokes and splutters, a gargling watery laughter that makes our shoulders shake and we gasp for air between smiles. We just keep drinking and drinking and laughing and laughing and the Maenads nod to one another and begin their hymn.
“Dionysus,” they sing, “bearer of the vine, thee I invoke to bless these rites divine! Rejoice, rejoice, evoe!” We look around as the ritual begins, a strange dance where the tinkling of silver follows complicated steps and the harmony of the orbs.
“Sing with us,” beckons the wild-haired Maenad who let us all in, leaning close to our ears and touching our lips with her merlot fingers. “Rejoice, rejoice, evoe!” As if magicked by her touch, each of us joins the chant, and in lieu of dancing the Maenads’ complex dance, we make a tipsy conga-line that snakes around the room to an unheard rhythm.
“Rejoice, rejoice, evoe!” we yell happily, tripping fantastic in the moss. We forget the words and make up our own: “Dionysus with a vine, you are so divine! Dionysus give us wine and we’ll love you all the time!” We dance until our thighs ache, and then we dance more, driven by the sacred beat of our wild waitresses. We dance until one of us breaks the rhythm with a yelp and points at her bloody feet. But when we check, all our feet are bloody, cut by broken shards of discarded cups and glasses. We only laugh more at the pain, because we can barely feel it. It is more important to keep dancing.
“Rejoice, rejoice, evoe!” sings a new voice, a deep, clear baritone that rings out in the room. We stop as the Maenads whisper “hush!”, and those of us who have been here before drop to our knees, stretching our arms toward the striking man who has appeared suddenly by the wall of ivy.
“Dionysus,” murmurs the wild-haired Maenad, prostrating herself at his feet.
“Dionysus, Dionysus!” The name echoes around the room, from some of us with reverence and others with surprise that such a man truly exists.
He is handsome and smirking, with dark curls and strong arms, and we find ourselves filled with a desire to touch him. We hold back for fear that we are not good enough, and because some of us are not really sure what “Dionysus” means. He stands before us like a god and we can barely stand at all. He looks perfect to us, though blurry vision makes us squint at hidden hooves and wonder at horns on the host’s head.
“Thank you for coming,” he says, and the Maenads rush to bring him a bottle of the best. He strolls through the room, the silence strange after the cacophony of the hymn. He inspects us, noting our stained mouths and varying states of undress, our drooping eyelids and swaying bodies. Finally, he comes to the still soaking wet girl who fell into the fountain. He glances at his stone naiad, pouring a familiar vintage, then back to the girl dripping watery rosé. He lets out a hearty bray. The silence broken, the party begins once more, and Dionysus throws himself into the carousing with gusto.
We are eager to drink with Dionysus, to toast to him, and so we surround him, dancing and clapping in a circle of which he is the center. He kisses the women and fondles the men, he lets us run our fingers through his hair, and he calls for song after song from the Maenads to keep the party going. He even brings out a feast, clapping his hands for two of the pretty servants to jingle into the kitchen and emerge with bowls and platters of food. He gorges on the marinated olives, succulent spiced lamb, and salty dried fish, passing bowl after bowl around the room to us. We didn’t realize how hungry we were, and we eat ravenously, trying to sop up our sloshing insides with thick pieces of bread spread with creamy goat’s cheese and unknown herbs.
We think we are full, and we ask for Tupperware for leftovers, but he demands dessert. The women in our revel gather around to feed him figs and pomegranate seeds, giggling at his teeth nibbling our fingers. In return, he gives us honey cakes, letting us lap the sticky-sweet residue from his hands and lips. The wild-haired Maenad looks on jealously, but only opens another bottle and serves.
We eat and eat until we can eat no more, and some of us fill urns with the contents of our bellies to make room for just one more sweet. We ache but we cannot stop; we love food as much as we love wine. Only when the Maenads stop parading platters out do we pause for breath between each bite, realizing we are full and washing the taste of cheese and olives and sick and sweet out of our mouths with more wine.
Fat and happy after our midnight spread, we, feeling truly bacchanalian, roll around the floor in pairs, too sleepy to actually try anything but craving the feel of a nearby body. We look up at Dionysus, stretched on the leather couch and finishing an apricot.
“Tell us a story,” one of us suggests, and the rest of us begin to implore with a steady chant, “Story, story, story.” Dionysus looks to the ceiling, as if painted there is a tableau of what he might say next. He considers for a very long time, and we forget to stop chanting even though we are no longer sure what we are asking for.
We are quieted, and Dionysus turns to the wild-haired Maenad, who has not spoken since her hymnal song. She pushes off the pawing hands of a bibulous invitee and holds up a finger to remind Dionysus of the tale.
“Midas and his golden touch.”
“Of course,” says Dionysus, a slow smile coming to his face. He thinks for a moment before beginning.
“Midas was a king where he came from. He had great charm and flair and he always dressed in the finest Gucci suits. He liked money almost as much as I like wine” — here we give a lazy cheer — “and he would do almost anything to get more of it. But Midas was a good man if there were no dollar bills in front of him, and he proved it by taking care of one of my little followers who got lost one night stumbling home. Midas didn’t just give him a cup of diner coffee and toss him to the dogs, but instead, I had word the next week that my man was working a job with Midas, learning the trade, earning some cash.
“I offered Midas a reward, anything he wanted, and that silly bastard asked for more money. Fine, I said, thinking it was a waste of a request, and opened my wallet, but he stopped me.
“‘I’ve heard of you,’ he said. ‘Got a lot of important people under your thumb. I know you can give me an endless supply if you wanted. I want to know the inside scoop. Always.’
“‘Sure,’ I said. I’m not one to argue with desire. I made it happen. He couldn’t even look at a stock without it going up, though I can’t say if that was intuition or influence. Gods, he made money. Filled a bank in a week.”
“Sounds nice,” murmurs one of us, and we nod to one another, some of us in half-missing business suits ourselves.
“It was. He bought a Benz and moved his family into a choice place on the Upper East Side. Got a little ahead of himself, if you ask me, but that was Midas. He liked spending money on nice things as much as he liked having it in his pocket. Everything he wanted, he bought. Jewelry, women, seats at the finest restaurants and entrance into the craziest clubs. He liked the best stuff, in powder or pill form, and he had it all — New York was his at the snap of his money clip.”
“I know this story,” says the red-cheeked woman a little too loudly. We groan and she tosses us a glare. “Tell ‘em what happened in the end, Dio.”
“That is the end, in my opinion. That‘s where my gift ends, at least,” shrugs Dionysus, and we are eager to agree with him, since whatever happened next we already knew. We wanted to skip the regret of Midas and revel in his yummy over-indulgence, and we did, over-indulging in one another as we realized how blessed we were to have the gifts of Dionysus still coming to us.
The Maenads tinkle in on bells to end our story time, surrounding their master to adore him. He groans with pleasure and beckons his favorite slave, the wild-haired thing who forgets her early jealousy and gives him what he wants. Tomorrow, they will wake to find him gone, as usual, and they will begin preparations for the next weekend. But now, they fall asleep draped on one another, touching their beloved deity and inhaling the sweet scent of wine which seems permanently part of him.
We barely notice, cuddling into one another and falling into intoxicated dreams. We will wake in the morning with monumental headaches and patchy memories. We will stumble home and wonder if it was real, hailing cabs to our offices and swallowing pills with our Starbucks. But despite our pounding brains, we will all come back when the next bacchanalia begins. We must.
ROSE WILLIAMSON just graduated from Anglia Ruskin University with an MA in creative writing. She is currently living in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona while preparing for a PhD in literary fairy tale analysis. In the meantime, she is working on a young adult novel and a short story collection of fairy tale adaptations, while teaching remedial English to fourth graders and slinging drinks at a college bar (utilizing the same kind of disciplinary skills at both).