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The Raleigh Temple of Artemis

Caroline Diorio is a student at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her short fiction has appeared on The NoSleep Podcast. This is her first story for Daily Science Fiction.

The Raleigh Temple of Artemis closes at midnight. It's 11:52.
The altar sweeper, a plump, snake-haired girl in a UNC Chapel Hill sweatshirt, glances at me as she Windexes the statue of Lady Artemis in the center of the pavilion.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting," I say, suddenly aware of how ridiculous I look, standing alone in the middle of this temple at midnight with a bulky cardigan covering my ratty pajama pants and tank top.
The girl scratches at the belly of the diamond-back rattlesnake growing out of her right temple, and a few pale, dead scales go snowflaking to the marble floor.
"We open at eight tomorrow, you know."
"I know," I say. "I'm just... waiting for someone."
She raises an eyebrow, but I offer no further explanation. After a moment or two of awkward silence, she shrugs and goes back to cleaning the statue.
I don't know how to explain it, but I know she'll come.
Suddenly, the door opens, and there she is.
When I saw her with him at the grocery store last Friday, I was reminded of the articles I read in Seventeen when I was a girl, the ones about celebrities who looked at the glossy, photoshopped images of themselves on magazine covers and found that they could barely recognize their own faces. This woman resembles me in the way that a butterfly resembles a grasshopper. She is thinner, but also curvier, than I have ever been. Her hair is dark and curly like mine, but longer, less frizzy. Her skin is as smooth and taut as Saran Wrap, devoid of the sunken pits that replaced my cystic acne only after a hellish round of Accutane.
But our eyes are the same. He always thought they were beautiful.
As she walks towards me, I notice a welt the color of rotting fruit on her left cheekbone, half-concealed by the storm of her dark hair. It wasn't there the last time I saw her. It looks new. Tender.
My fists clench involuntarily.
She stands before me, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, as if she might fall apart if she lets go.
She doesn't meet my eyes.
I imagine him creating her, pulling late nights in the studio to sculpt every detail just so. Maybe he used one of our wedding photos for reference, from the time when I still looked at him as if he were the sun itself.
I imagine him dragging her lifeless marble form to temples all over North Carolina. The Temple of Aphrodite in Cary. The Temple of Hermes in Durham. Or maybe he just went straight to the Pantheon Center in Charlotte, to save time and gas money, just sat her down in front of all twelve statues of the gods and prayed to anyone who was listening to bring her to life.
I don't know which god granted his wish, but I know it wasn't Aphrodite. This has nothing to do with love.
She tugs at the hem of her yellow sundress, too short and too thin for the autumn chill. The silence stretches between us, thin and brittle as January ice.
"So you left him," I say finally.
She shakes her head.
"He kicked me out," she says. Her voice is mine, only softer. "Said that he's gonna try again with better material."
I swallow roughly. I look at this perfect version of myself standing in front of me, wonder what reason he finally found to throw her away.
"Do you have a name?" I ask her.
"Just yours," she says.
I take a deep breath.
"Well," I say. "There's only one of me, so I guess you'll have to name yourself."
She looks up at me, slightly surprised.
"Maybe not now," I say, "but one day you'll find a name you like, and I'll take you down to the courthouse to sign the certificate yourself."
Her eyes widen.
"You'd do that?" she asks.
"Of course," I say, "I'm not gonna leave you." I turn towards the door.
"Come on," I tell her. "Let's get you some ice for that bruise. You can sleep on my couch tonight, and we'll figure out what to do in the morning."
After a moment's hesitation, she follows me. The snake-haired girl holds the door open for us, peering curiously at us as we leave. As we walk together across the nearly empty parking lot, she slips her arm through mine. In the still, sleepy-blue of the night, anyone who saw us would think we were twins. Sisters with the same face.
Or nearly the same.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 30th, 2019

Author Comments

I remember first hearing about the myth of Pygmalion on an episode of Between the Lions when I was a little girl. I thought it was pretty romantic at the time, but as I got older, I started to wonder how Pygmalion's statue wife might have felt about being created for the sole purpose of marrying him. This little story was the result.

- Caroline Diorio
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