“Nails, please, and can you paint them fire engine red?” I asked the girl at the counter, whose own nails had little pastel Easter eggs painted on them. How quaint.
“Yes ma’am, I’ll let your technician know you want them red. Name, please?” the girl, probably just out of her teens, asked in her best grown up voice.
“Echidna,” I said, casting her a sideways glance.
“Very pretty, unusual,” she replied as she sauntered over to a tech who had just gotten off her cellphone and had been arguing with her boyfriend in another language. I know this because I know all dialects and speak the language of love, the biblical kind, better than any other being.
It was why I was there. It was why I wanted my nails done in red. Red attracts a man’s eye. I had read research by these fascinating humans that men’s awareness of a woman is heightened by the color red. Even animals, like chimps and baboons, redden a bit around ovulation to send out a signal that says, “You, me, let’s do this!” That was the message I wanted to convey.
Not that I was or would ever be a hussy or a floosy. No, my standards are very high, godly in fact. I like my men large and in charge, though I must admit that no one, not even Typhon the greatest monster to ever have terrorized this planet, was a match for my ferocity. If you were wondering, I meant that both in bed and outside of it.
I have been everywhere. Have you heard of a powerful man, oddly drawn away from his loving, beautiful wife for the attentions of some lesser creature? Presidents, soldiers on the front, pharaohs, CEOs; if they have had the breeding stock to father heroes and villains of epic proportions, then there I have been. Genghis Khan? He was an odd fellow, always running about and yelling at passersby. His anger was disproportional to his surroundings, which made him such an inspired leader. We had four children together. They all either became or killed great kings. I was such a proud mama. Napoleon? For someone so small, he had determination that could suffocate an elephant. Just one child came from our union, a girl. She was the most famous, and deadly, courtesan of her time. Again, my sweet babies have made me so proud.
That’s where this spectral, legendary woman’s addictions lie. It is not the men I crave, that’s a stupid thought on its face. Men come and go. They live and die, rarely making the kind of impact I can make in a day, in one single tumble in the hay. No, it is the children from these unions which are my purpose. I am Echidna, daughter of Sea, mother of monsters.
This girl with the pastel fingernails was told my name, but it did not mean anything to her, as I expected. She did not know me or see me for what I truly was. It seemed the world had forgotten me. Perhaps that is a false turn of phrase. The world never truly knew me, although parts of my story were better known in ancient Greece. Yet they said I was a horror to look upon, half maiden and half serpent. They said I dwelled in a cave like a lunatic. Why ever would I do such a thing?
As my nails were being painted, the tech’s eyes began to water. I knew she was still thinking about her boyfriend.
“Tell me about him, sister,” I said in English, though I made sure she understood it in her native tongue.
“I can’t,” she told me, her eyes darting to and fro like a scared rabbit.
I locked eyes with her. My eyes were green, very green. I made them larger as I tilted my head to the side, showing her I was not a threat with open, expressive body language.
“No, I really can’t,” she deferred, but I could tell she was compelled. She wanted to tell me.
“Alright, if you insist, but what does it matter? I will probably never see you again, and telling me might help you feel better,” I put some sugar in my voice and patted her hand. Physical touch is such a compelling thing for these humans.
“Well…alright,” she said, completely on the hook.
“He’s…not exactly single,” she started and I was immediately enraptured. Her gestures over my hand became mechanical, as if doing her daily work would help her get the story out.
“But his wife is never home! He can’t get from her what he can get from me! I am the one that comforts him, that encourages his touch. She is some highbrow lawyer, and he practically has to sign a contract to have any intimacies. They have an ironclad pre-nup. He’s pretty powerful himself, you see. I think that is why he married her, for appearances. He’s an actor, best known for playing soldiers in films. I’ve heard that he has so much experience re-creating realistic soldier behavior that he’s been called in as body doubles for some insanely influential people. He’s said he knows secrets that could take very powerful men down,” she said this all in whispers, never meeting my eyes again. I can’t explain how, but it just tasted like the truth.
“But what does he do for you?” I asked, hanging the bait out there.
“He pays for my apartment. If I need to visit the doctor or dentist, he takes care of it. He has said he’ll take care of any babies we have,” she sighed, completely in love.
“That’s not a bad arrangement,” I said, “practical, even. So why were you arguing?”
“He wanted to come here, to take me out to lunch and have some alone time at home. I, I just don’t want these girls to see him or to know what I have been up to. Word could get back to my parents. I said I’d meet him there, but he insisted he wanted to pick me up. He asked me what I was hiding from him,” she sighed.
“Dear, what girl wouldn’t want their potent boyfriend to pick them up in his fancy car?” I ask, drawing the noose tighter.
“One that will be part of an arranged marriage in time. One whose virtue means the world to her parents. One that is concerned about his reputation, even if he is not,” she said, her voice small like a squeaking mouse.
“You don’t know what you’re denying him, honey! Men love to show their girls around, make a fuss over them. It’s how the modern man puts a seal on his lady. The more men he shows her off to, the more men know she is formally or informally off the market. He’s really just trying to say he loves you. Are you going to deny him that?” I asked, making my tone that of a big sister.
“You think?” she asked, hopeful.
“I know,” I said and directed my gaze down my own very curvy, well dressed body. She followed, and her thoughts seemed to move in the direction I wanted. There I was, an experienced, older, elegant woman. She needed to take my man advice.
“If you’ll excuse me?” the mouse asked.
“Of course, dear. You call that man of yours,” I said, bringing my fingernails to my lips to blow them dry.
Her man checked all my boxes. Influential. Deceiving. Of high ambition and little moral reflection. He was going to love me.
It was not ten minutes later he was striding through the nail salon’s glass doors. His broad chest and sunglasses inside made all the women working pause. I alone ignored him. I dug through my purse and pulled out a large tip for the tech. She tried to refuse it, though she was visibly flustered by her man’s presence. I pushed the wad of money toward her again, laughing a throaty laugh.
“Really, take it,” I said, “You did a wonderful job.”
I unnecessarily brought my red nails to my lips for a few more breaths, and allowed myself my first direct but coy glance up at the waiting man.
His eyes locked with mine, and I knew that we are going to make some delightfully sinister babies together.
–an M.N. Maloney work