I think I understand Phaethon

What is a grieving man supposed to do? This story draws you into the fantastic world of Greek mythology at first glance but quickly weaves it into our real world without reprise. Heartbreaking yet riveting, it chronicles a man’s self-discovery in his musings and leaves a reader reeling from the final blow. As it was intentionally left unnamed, the author also invites you to think about why this is the case, and if it adds to the story’s narrative.

I think I understand Phaethon.

If I were given the chance I would step into that gold-gilded chariot, too.

I would be mesmerised by its glitter. I would run my fingers along the intricately carved surface, feel the dips and bends in every corner.

It would feel hot to the touch. Not burning, but a comfortable kind of warmth that makes you think of summers on the beach. Mixed in the air would be the smell of sun lotion and the salty depth of sea filling every cell of your expanding lungs. I would lay my hands on the chariot and soak up its pulsing warmth forever. Close my eyes, will myself away. Take me to the beach again, back to her and the happiness and the sea and the warm sun.

When I open my eyes I see at the horses at the front of the chariot. Their bodies must be a creamy white, like vanilla ice-cream that you eat with your love during summertime. As the both of you laugh and race to finish the dripping cones, she flashes the most vivacious smile that stops you in your tracks. Beautiful. Then you start as an ice-cold sensation hits the tip of your nose and you realise she has smeared ice-cream on your face. You chortle and dip your finger into your own cone. Yes, the horses possess the exact same shade. They’re the colour of memories. Now they’re neighing at you gently.

I dip my toes slowly onto the dazzling, gold-polished surface of the chariot. Has anyone ridden this before? It is irradiant; it glitters. I bend on my knees and, on a whim, lay my cheek against the surface. I can see the horses gazing at me incuriously, tilted to the side. From this angle their manes look like rippling columns of majesty as the snow-white columns dance about in the breeze. Such elegance. It reminds you of the first time you actually noticed a girl in a way that makes your heart skip a beat. Maybe it’s the way her hair swung around as she turns, catching the sunlight in its beat. Maybe it’s how she placed her hand on your chest and made you feel instantly at home. Maybe it’s just her. But it’s time to go. A lump hitches in my throat.

I gather the thick ropes in my hands. They look tiny as they are harnessing the giant ropes tethering the horses. As I look at the ropes, the horses, then up into the azure wideness of the sky, a serene faith takes over me. I will be fine. I hesitate, then ripple the ropes in one swift motion. I observe as the rope obeys my command and waves up and down, travelling to the horses patiently awaiting. Then it happens: the rope solidly thuds against the horses and the fur on their bodies displaces. All of a sudden I am rising higher and higher. The ascension is so fast I feel dizzy, it reminds me of the time I went to a theme park as a child and tried a roller-coaster. But I threw up after that, and now I pray I don’t. I look around me and see nothing but whizzing chunks of white within the blue. Is this the sky?

I turn around and stare at the goal in front of me. It is blazing, intense, aglow with fire. It seems to be pulsing and beckoning at me. I feel myself getting warmer and warmer as I get closer to it. My heart is racing, this warmth is exactly like how it felt at the beach so many years ago. I almost smell the sea again. Now I feel fire. I think tears are streaming down my cheeks. Was this how she felt in her last moments, with the blaze surrounding her? Did she take the time to appreciate the vivid glare of the fire as it slowly consumed her, like I am? I squeeze my eyes shut as the pain takes over, searing every cell of my body. It feels like a renewal. I am delivered once more into a new, bright world. I can’t escape the glow now; it is bright and I think I am about to shatter. I faintly hear the horses screaming in the background. But mostly all I hear is her singing softly the night we first slept together.

I think perhaps I understand Orpheus better.


S is a soft-spoken girl who has acquired the love for writing at a young age – as a child, she often dreamt about fairytales, and now realises that she can write herself in the world of fantasy. Now as a final-year undergraduate in NUS, she finds herself increasingly in need of escaping into this world of fantasy. In her writings, S is especially intrigued with the motifs of Greek mythology and appreciates a good unexpected twist in stories every now and then. Her least favourite book is Pride and Prejudice – she once fell asleep reading it.

Photo Credit: Victoria Lee

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