The Minotaur imprisoned in the center of the labyrinth was rumored to be a monster, half man and half bull, but he was only horribly disfigured. Queen Pasiphae and King Minos were ashamed to show the son with his humpback, large head, round eyes on the sides of his face, pendulous lips, and braying voice. This is what love produced.
She dandled the infant on her lap and prayed to the gods to cure him of his monstrous features. As he grew into childhood, his skin thickened, fell into folds around his neck, and he walked on all fours because he could not stand upright very long. She visited him in his old nursery, since she still felt affection for the child, now twenty years old. He sprawled on pillows on the floor and stroked his long nose, then licked his fingers.
“Don’t do that, dear,” she said.
He bellowed and brayed.
She closed her eyes and tried to think her way out of the puzzle. “My baby son,” she said.
He bellowed and swung his head.
She had long stopped imagining he was speaking words. He had the flesh and bones of a human, but not the mind. She had tried to teach him counting. Over and over, she said “one” and “two” as she offered him honey-flavored sweets. He grabbed the sweets, snorting, and swallowed them. He never smiled. She repeated words: “Mama,” “Papa,” “love.” He looked away and yawned. He moaned.
This time she brought a small loaf of salt-crusted bread because he liked salt. He brayed and took the bread, tearing it instead of just eating it whole. Her eyes opened wide. She stroked his wrist. She offered another loaf of bread, and he tore that too. Perhaps the gods were withdrawing their punishment. She offered him grapes and he ate them one by one. The youth was learning manners!
They walked outside the cave; he blinked in the soft evening light. Spring blossomed on the land: wisps of leaves on the olive trees, thin blades of green on the ground. He moaned and swung his head. He stumbled and spilled his cup of water onto the ground. He sank down to put his hand in the mud. She caressed his face and saw that one of his teeth was rotten. The gods were afflicting him further. It was not enough that he could not speak nor think. She would send a doctor to him.
Ten years ago she agreed to put him in the cave because she could not bear to look at him anymore. Minos had stopped visiting him years earlier. She would devote herself to her other children; she would pretend that this one was dead.
A human was given only as much pain as one could endure. That’s what she was taught. She thought now that there was no bottom to pain—it was rain on the ocean, sand on the beach, a dark cave at night. One could always be given more pain.
Just as she turned to the entrance, he moaned and said, “Mud.” She was sure he said it. Her deepest prayers had been answered. This redeemed everything—all the pain, the hope, the curses. This would make her life normal, give her a normal future, give him a normal life.
He spit up a crust of bread and moaned. “Ma-a-a.”