The Physics of Sorrow - Excerpt
And then from somewhere behind me I hear:
Step right up, ladies and gents . . . A child with a bull’s head. A never-before-seen wonder. The little Minotaur from the Labyrinth, only twelve years old . . . You can eat up your fiver, drink up your fiver, or spend your fiver to see a marvel you’ll talk about your whole life long.
[. . .]
In the middle of the tent stands an iron cage about five or six paces long and a little taller than human height. The thin metal bars have begun to darken with rust. Inside there is a mattress and a small, three-legged stool at one end, while at the other—a pail of water and scattered hay. One corner for the human, one for the beast.
The Minotaur is sitting on the stool, with his back to the audience. The shock comes not from the fact that he looks like a beast, but that he is in some way human. Precisely his humanness is staggering. His body is boyish, just like mine.
The first down of adolescence on his legs, feet with long toes, who knows why I expected to see hooves. Faded shorts that reach his knees, a short-sleeved shirt . . . and the head of a young bull. Slightly disproportionate to the body, large, hairy, and heavy. As if nature had hesitated. And just dropped everything right in the middle between bull and man—nature got frightened or distracted. This head is not just a bull’s, nor just a human’s. How can you describe it, when the tongue is also pulled in two directions? The face (or snout?)—elongated; the forehead—slightly sloped backward, but nevertheless massive, with bones jutting out above the eyes. (Actually, it is not unlike the forehead of all the men in our family. At this point I unwittingly run my hand over my own skull.) His lower jaw is rather protruded, the lips quite thick. The bestial always hides in the jaw, it’s where the animal leaves us last. His eyes, due to the elongated face (or snout) that flattens out on the sides, are wide set. Over the whole facial area there is some brownish fuzz, not a beard, but fuzz. Only toward the ears and neck does this fuzz congeal into fur, the hair growing wild and in disarray. And yet he is more human than anything else. There is a sorrow in him, which no animal possesses.
Once the tent fills up, the man makes the Minotaur-boy stand. He gets up off the stool and for the first time looks at the crowd in the tent. His gaze wanders over us, he has to turn his head, given his obliquely set eyes. They seem to rest on me for a moment. Could we be the same age?
The man who herded us into the tent (his master and guardian) begins his tale. An odd mix of legend and biography, honed over the course of long repetitions at fairs. A story in which eras catch up with one another and intertwine. Some events happen now, others in the distant and immemorial past. The places are also confused, palaces and basements, Cretan kings and local shepherds build the labyrinth of this story about the Minotaur-boy, until you get lost in it. It winds like a maze and unfortunately I will never be able to retrace its steps. A story with dead-end corridors, threads that snap, blind spots, and obvious discrepancies. The more unbelievable it looks, the more you believe it. The pale and straight line—the only way I can retell it now, lacking the magic of that tale—goes roughly as follows.
Helio, the boy’s grandfather on his mother’s side, was in charge of the sun and the stars; in the evening he locked up the sun and drove the stars out into the sky, like driving a herd out to pasture. In the morning he gathered up his herd and let the sun out to graze. The old man’s daughter, Pasifette, the mother of this boy here, was kind and beautiful, she married a mighty king from somewhere way down there in the islands. This was long ago, even before the wars. It was a rich kingdom, the Lord God himself (their god, that is, the local one) drank whiskey with the king of the islands, they set store by each other, God even gave him a big bull with a pure white hide, which was a downright wonder to behold. So the years went by and God demanded that same bull as a sacrifice. But Old King Minyo (Minos, Minos . . . somebody yelled out) was feeling stingy and decided to pull a fast one on God and slaughtered another bull, again fat and well fed. But can you really pull a fast one on God? God found out, hit the roof, started blustering, saying, don’t pull this while-the-grass-grows-the-horse-starves business on me, now you’ll see who you’re messing with. He fixed it so that Minyo’s meek and loyal wife, Pasifette, sinned with that very same handsome stud of a bull. (Here a buzz of disapproval sweeps through the crowd.) And from this a child was born—a man in body, but a bull in countenance, with a bull’s head. His mother nursed him and cared for him, but that laughingstock King Minyo just couldn’t stomach the disgrace. He didn’t have the heart to kill the little baby-Minotaur, so he ordered it to be locked up in the basement of the palace. And that basement was a real labyrinth, a master stonemason made it so that once you go in, there’s no getting out.
[. . .]
While he tells this story, the Minotaur bows his head, as if the story has nothing to do with him, only making a soft throaty sound from time to time. The same as I made with my locked lips.
Now show ’em how you drink water, the master orders and the Minotaur, with visible displeasure, falls to his knees, dunks his head into the bucket and slurps noisily. Now say hello to these good people. The Minotaur is silent, looking down. Say hello to these people, the man repeats once again. Now I see that in one hand he is holding a staff with a sharp spike on one end. The Minotaur opens his mouth and growls out what is more likely a deep, raspy, unfriendly Mooooo . . . With that, the show ends.