A Complex Elektra
by Angela Slatter
When my sister did not return, I secretly rejoiced.
Clytemnestra came back from Aulis hollow-eyed and silent. She did not speak for many days – her charioteer told my remaining siblings and I what had happened. How our father had sacrificed Iphigenia to buy the wind to give his ships sail. There had been no wedding, no Achilles to husband, no bright future for my oldest sister.
Mother retreated inside herself, refused to eat. For a while I thought she might die, but it showed yet again that I neither knew nor understood she who’d bred me. She fed her anger and grief, and plotted. She practised with the great axe that had been a wedding gift from her own father. In my father’s stead she ruled Mycenae and took her husband’s cousin to her bed.
Upon his return, Agamemnon breathed the air of his own home for the briefest of times before being slaughtered as he lay in a bath. No matter what the gossip says, it was she who wielded the axe, not her lover.
My brother, Orestes, fled; my sister, Chrysothemis, happily remained. I stayed, too, silently disapproving, haunted by dreams and visitations. I knew Agamemnon had not loved me, but I thought if I honoured him in death, his shade might see and bear witness to my devotion.
I helped Orestes hide, wavering fool. When I took food and clean clothes, I spoke of how our mother had offended the very gods. I wore him down, I think, as he grew weary of the isolation, of living in fear, of being deprived of his inheritance. He finally agreed and everything I had planned and set in place was ready. I smuggled him into the palace dressed as a beggar and hid him in my room until day turned into the bruised plum of evening. At last, I handed him the axe our mother had used. Even though she’d cleaned it of our father’s blood, still I could see the haze of red on the bright blade.
And I watched my brother walk from the room, waited for the scream. When those came, I nodded to the creatures no one else had seen, waiting on the windowsill. The Furies, silhouetted against the horizon and the wine-dark sea, defiled the skyline. They crowed happily to have their meat.