Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

S H O R T   S T O R Y
MY FATHER'S MINOTAUR
b y   s t e p h e n    b e n z   ~   p i n e   l a k e,   g e o r g i a

FOR YEARS, I saw him only at Christmas or when business brought me to the island and I could drop by for an hour or two. Disheveled widower, he sat in his den—all decoration stripped from the walls—ignoring me to study his blueprints.

The thing grew from a concept on paper to a construct on the grounds. For a while I was amused and even a bit pleased with the eccentricity—something unusual to tell at work. My colleagues howled. It topped everyone’s crazy parent story.

But as the project took shape, I grew concerned at its enormity, its cost, its—shall I say?—monstrosity. The foundation alone took several months, a huge pit replacing my old playground, mother’s garden and gazebo, even the chipping green—the old man’s former hobby horse. I admit I worried what effect this damage might have on the value of my inheritance.

Year by year, I observed the changes: trenches dug, walls erected. For a time you could ascend the tower with gin and tonics and gaze down upon the twists and turns, the dead-end corridors; and even from that vantage the maze, too intricate to follow, made me dizzy. The earthworks were put in place, day and night, trucks arriving to dump mountains of soil, bulldozers shaking the grounds until the whole thing lay buried beneath the terraced layers of a ziggurat. Damned impressive, I conceded, and even the most jaded of my colleagues marveled at the photographs I brought back.

When an invitation to the dedication came, I knew, good son, that I must go. It was a summer’s day, the island hot and prolific with insects, floral colors, the smell of smoking meat rising to the heavens from barbecue pits. A crowd of revelers strolled the grounds, admiring the massive bulwarks from viewing platforms constructed just for the occasion, complete with interpretive plaques describing dimensions, materials, special problems encountered in construction—all brilliantly resolved, of course. My father didn’t fail to flaunt his successes.

The mastermind himself, wheeled about by a servant, received the plaudits with stern dignity. When the crowd was gathered at the entrance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, he stood on shaky knees at a podium and dedicated the maze to my mother’s memory. The applause was long and warm; then the old man held up his gnarled hand. I remember the stillness of the moment, the silence that made me suddenly aware of the hot afternoon’s feverish pulse. Then the aged but calm voice announced that the first to test the labyrinth would be none other than his only son. A cheer rose up; I stared in surprise but his face betrayed nothing. Laughter. My name chanted. “Go for it,” someone said. The fashion model I’d brought along giggled and urged me on. My father stood at the darkened doorway. “Surely you remember Theseus,” he said. The arthritic hands held out a ball of yarn and a torch. I crossed the threshold.

Turns and reversals took me miles into confused chambers. My footsteps sounded down the passageway. I shivered, anticipating the light that surely must appear to signal the end. Hours passed and I knew I could never work my way through. I was tired, bored, there was nothing to do but retreat, admit defeat, give the old man his moment. I turned then and began to ravel the yarn when with a sudden chill I realized the end was with me, not fixed to the entrance. I was lost.

“Hey, oh hey,” I shouted but by some weird device my voice, thrown back at me, had become a wild horrible bellow. I held up the torch and beheld myself in a room of mirrors, no apparent way out, on every side my father’s minotaur staring back at me.

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