Painted red toenails


Amazing Avatar

by Lesley McCall

Competition theme: 'Overcoming'

She peered down at her feet.  Her red painted toenails peeped out from the strap of her yellow flip flops.  She could feel her toes grabbing onto the edge of the bridge, as if desperate to put a stop to what she was here for.

 “It’s funny”, she thought, “Everything seems so different at 4am, on a summer’s morning, no traffic, no pedestrians. Perfect for me to do what I have to do”. 

Her toes wriggled some more, phalanges pinched white against the pressure of the edge of the bridge.  She thought that the structure appeared so much higher when balancing on the outside of the railings.

“Which is good”, she said aloud, reconciling herself to the fact that once she had jumped, the long drop to the ground would ensure a quick and final end.  She looked down into the ravine where rocks, of varying sizes, lay scattered upon the ground. They appeared like dead bodies, turned to stone by the infamous Medusa with snakes for hair.

Steph knew that friends and family would ask why she would do such a terrible thing, for example, she had everything to live for; she was such a beautiful person; and so on.  But to her these phrases had no meaning, no sentiment, just a bla, bla, bla of words. She could not expect people to understand, she didn’t understand herself.  No going back now, her mind was made up.  Her fingers held tight to the metal railings behind her back and she leaned forward, her arms stretched out behind her, head down, staring into the abyss. 

“This is going to be harder than I thought”.  Her mind flitted over recent events and she continued to conclude that she was a failure; a failure in relationships, her career and marriage So, when Paul told her that he was leaving her for another woman who was having his baby, she made up her mind on the spot.  She was not meant for this world and she certainly wasn’t strong enough for the challenges of being mortal.

She brazed herself for the final push from the bridge and she became aware of another’s presence.  Steph threw a glance to her right and immediately closed her eyes in terror.  She must be imagining this, because beside her stood that most awful of Greek horrors, Medusa.  Her snakes hissing and squirming upon her head.  “Right, I’m wishing her away, she does not exist…wish, wish wish, “Go away Medusa, leave me alone”, she shouted. “I don’t want to be turned into stone; I simply want to throw myself from this bridge.  So please, go”.

“I’m afraid, Stephanie, that I cannot do that for I have a job to do” replied Medusa, sounding somewhat bored.

“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.  I must be delirious”. Steph turned to see Medusa standing there, staring straight ahead, just as real and as scary as before.

“Can I touch you”? Steph asked.

“Yes, of course, but don’t touch my hair.  It is, how shall I put it? Very coarse and wiry and it takes forever to style”.

“Humm, yes, I can see.”  She reached out her right hand to touch the vision before her.  “You actually are solid” she murmured snatching her hand away to cling once again tightly to the railings.

Medusa turned her head to look at Steph. A scream leapt from deep within Steph’s vocal cords to echo across the valley “Please don’t turn me to stone, no, no please don’t”.

“Why ever not”? Enquired Medusa, “I thought you were here because you wanted to die.  What’s the difference between dying from the jump and turning to stone; once you’re dead, you’re dead. Unless, of course, you are like me”.

“But I’m nothing like you and besides my hair is in much better condition, and I’m not Greek”. Replied Steph, wondering how she could be so flippant. “How come I’m still flesh and blood and not rock hard yet?  I thought it was one look from you and that was it… stone dead.”

“Well, yes my dear Stephanie”. Was Medusa’s yawned response. “In normal times, that is how it would have been, but we are not in normal times. Have you not noticed that 2020 has been near to apocalyptic; a word much used by your leaders in their forums across the globe. My great leader and God, the one and only, Zeus, decided that the planet’s inhabitants had had rather a soft time of late”. Medusa let out a sigh before continuing. “Rather a long gap between world wars and the atom bomb seems to have died a death.  In his great wisdom, and for something to do on a quiet day, he decided to send down this viral thingamajig.   I believe you call it Covid 19.  His eminence is up there now with Hera, the most beautiful female and queen god in the universe.  Their benevolence is all powerful and loving.”

“Sounds to me Zeus is not nice at all.  Thousands of people have died.  Besides, why are you grovelling around Zeus and his queen.  Look what they did to you.”

“Hush, hush”. Was Medusa’s nervous response. “The gods hear and see everything.  It was Athena that turned me from a beautiful woman to this hideous being.  My crime was not even my own but the fault of Poseidon.”

Steph tried to sound sympathetic but wanted to get on with her plans.  “Medusa, I’m sorry for your predicament, and I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a job to do, so please can you leave and let me get on with it”?

“Unfortunately, my dearest Stephanie, I cannot do that.  I have a mission to fulfil”.

“And what mission might that be”? Asked Stephanie, feeling a tiny bit intrigued as to where this conversation was going.

“Oh goodness me, have I not explained?  The view from up here is quite endearing, my mind must have wandered somewhat.”

“Come on then, explain yourself. Let’s get on with it” Steph was feeling exasperated.

“Well, Zeus’s brilliant idea for Covid was not just to provide a spectacle it was also to allow beings such as me to appease the gods and in return we would be returned to our former glories.  You must have heard of Hercules and Jason and the Argonauts; it is that sort of thing.  My task is to save one hundred lives during the year 2020 and you, my dear Stephanie are my final mortal, you are my one hundredth lifesaving task.  Soon I shall have my beauty returned to me forever.  Of course, my beauty will be nothing compared to the, all wonderful, all powerful Hera”. Steph heard a loud sigh and understood how carefully a creature like Medusa had to be when talking about the Gods.

“I appreciate your dilemma Medusa”, interrupted Steph, but I’d rather you found someone else.  I’m really not worth saving.”

“Oh, but you are my dear.  Did I not explain the fine print in the contract with Zeus?  If I fail to save any of my chosen mortals, then I shall remain cursed, the most dreaded of Greek mythological creatures. You are my most important of all chosen humans.  You must help me, or rather, we must help each other”.

Steph interrupted again, “Yes, I can see that this is a dilemma, but I also have a task to complete and it is in conflict with yours.”

“Stephanie Darling” Medusa continued, “I need you more than you need me. Please, in the name of the gods, you are the only one who can save me.”

“You’re asking me to not kill myself, correct?”

“That I am.  I am pleading with you to think of somebody else for a change, stop being, how is it that you say it in today’s world, stop being all, Me, Me, Me”.

“I’ll have you know” was Steph’s indignant reply, “that I am certainly not all Me, Me, Me, as you put it.  I think about other people all the time”.

“Is that so?” questioned Medusa, her eyes raising upward to the heavens.  “If you did consider others, do you think that you would be here, on this bridge, about to end your life?”

“Well, now that you put it like that. Maybe not”. Steph looked sheepishly at Medusa’s swirling snakes.

“Selfishness is bad Stephanie.  You have courage within. It needs unlocking.  Do not be selfish and cowardly”.

“Hang on a minute. How dare you say that I’m selfish.” Interjected Steph. “You hardly know me”.

She paused, waiting for Medusa to come in again, but there was silence which seemed to go on forever. Steph turned again to watch Medusa’s snaking hair and felt a strong compassion for this woman.  Even taking in consideration the swirling reptiles and an ugly, angy face, Medusa was still a woman, a woman like her.  A woman who had gone through difficult times.  A woman still willing to fight and struggle for her identity. Steph’s train of thought was interrupted.

“I know that you have the strength. Perhaps, like me, you are being tested. Without you I am condemned to being ugly, live forever in a dark, damp cave, nobody to love and nobody to love me, no chance to do good in the world.   You can save my poor head from being cut off by every wandering hero who happens to want to prove how brave he his.”

“When you put it like that, it does give one pause for thought.  I think that you have a strong argument Medusa.  I will give it my consideration”.  A long pause ensued again. Both women stood silent on the outside edge of the bridge.

“Stephanie, dear, any idea how long you tend to ponder our dilemma”?

“Medusa my friend, I have decided.  Yes, I agree to be your one hundredth and final rescue. Yes I will help to free you from this curse.  It is the least I can do.”

“By the grace and mercy of all the gods. I will love my Stephanie forever”. Was Medusa’s grateful reply.

With that, Stephanie carefully turned her body to climb over the railings when her flip-flops slipped, lurching backwards into the open space, she began to fall headlong into the valley. Her bright red toenails flicking and spinning through the air.  Stephanie could not believe that this was it, the end.  Fortunately for Stephanie this wasn’t the end - Whoosh, Steph felt herself being lifted up into the air, the blue sky above her.  Medusa cradled Steph in her arms and was carrying her out of harm’s way.  Stephanie clinging to Medusa’s neck, yelled against the noise of the wind, “I didn’t know you could fly?”

“I cannot, my lovely Stephanie. Perseus offered me his flying sandals.  He had the foresight to see that, in your case, I might need them”.

Medusa placed her one hundredth, saved mortal gently at the front door. Medusa’s last comment to her friend was, “I adore your painted red toenails”.

“If you want to come in, I can paint yours too”. Replied Steph, but she was too late. Stephanie looked up to see Medusa floating a few feet above the ground.  Her beautiful face framed by her long flaxen hair, that was dressed in flowers of many colours which tumbled and curled down to her waist. Gone were the snakes and the necrotic flesh, for now she was adorned in a flowing turquoise gown. On her feet she wore Perseus’s golden flying sandals, their silver wings flapping furiously.  Medusa rose elegantly into the air.  Stephanie waved her arm in farewell and the infamous, but now beautiful Medusa, waved back, smiling with her hypnotic piercing blue eyes.  Both women, raised their hands to their mouths and blew each other a kiss.

“No-one will believe any of this when I put it on Twitter.” Said Stephanie as she shut the door behind her.