I Love Him Artichoke, by Anna-Claire McGrath


Prefer to read this as an EPUB or PDF?

Join our Patreon and instantly download issue 34:

What Orpheus didn’t know was that I didn’t love anything. That I would stand by the Aegean Sea and ask the gods to send a wave so large it would pull me in. I did not tell him how I envied Persephone for living in the nothingness below. How I would not have asked to return to the fields each spring and summer.

Instead I told him that I understood how he might never love me like he loved his lyre, but I hoped he might like me just a little. To this he smiled, and he began to strum a few chords, chords that sounded like the dark kiss of the ocean, chords like tunnels underground.

Your name, he told me, sounds good to sing.

Eurydice, he said. It ends with a vowel sound. Like Persephone.

Eurydice. Persephone. Beyoncé.

I would be a better artist if I were sadder, he said. The best songs are always the sad ones.

Those days, we would lie out on the blacktop near the school and he would play old songs that his mother taught him. He told me she would read poetry to him and his brother when they could not sleep. That she had ink stains on her fingers from the writing she would do. She wrote, and she gave it to the poets so that they believed it was theirs. This, he said, was love.

In his songs I would forget to think. It happened quickly, but without my notice. He would be playing and then suddenly I would awaken, as if from sleep, and realize he had been playing for hours. In the heavy afternoon sun, he would strum his lyre, and I would lose myself to the world of his songs, distant as islands, long as countries. I was not sure if I was falling in love with Orpheus or his lyre. Now I know there is no difference.

I am in love with you, he said one evening as if he was just realizing it himself. The television was playing in the background, a music video with women with midriffs exposed that I watched out of the corner of my eye. Oh Gods, I am in love with you, he repeated.

I did not need to think about it. I love you, too, I replied. I love you just as much.

I prayed to Hades that night: Dear Lord, I want the feeling of listening to his music forever. What I wanted was to live inside his music and not in my own brain. My brain was busy and strange. It jostled me back and forth and didn’t care what I wanted. My best friend Zoe caught me kneeling outside, and she asked me who I was praying to. I said Apollo. That was someone she would not question, and besides, he was a god of music. Apollo was a handsome god, but I could not understand how women could love someone who was all light. I could only love the beauty that wriggled free from darkness.

Zoe told me that this was good, but that she worried I was spending too much time with this musician Orpheus.

Musicians are all the same, she told me, brushing her auburn hair back with her finger. He will convince you he is sensitive because he has a pretty voice, but once you grow closer, you will see that his heart is only brittle clay.

But I knew this was not Orpheus. Orpheus had told me on the first day of his brittle clay heart, and I had learned that it was wider and larger than he knew.

I thought that way about many men, she said. But as soon as I knew them, I tired of them.

She held my hand in hers. It was soft.

You must learn to value your own life. Your life is just as important as his.

I had already stopped listening.

It was not long before he spoke to me of marriage. It seemed natural, to him, that two people in love would want to marry. But I hated the thought of it. In my mind was my mother, not a person at all but merely a husk, obsessed with grasping onto me as if I were the only thing she had. And yet I loved him. To be alive was to cling to patterns we had no hand in creating. We walked along into the forest, where our sandals bent on top of tree roots and our arms brushed with branches. He did not want to tame me, he said. He knew I could not be owned. I told him I would marry him.

On those hot summer days I would lie back in gym shorts and blast his music from my headphones. I felt calm and still. I couldn’t hear my mother through the wall, I couldn’t hear my own fingers twitch. It was only music, music like a fungus blotting out my brain.

The morning of the wedding, my mother bathed me, and as she did she gave me a cracked smile and said, Your body is so alive. She scrubbed as if she scrubbed hard enough I would change my mind.

She gave me a calf to sacrifice at the temple. It had a spot on its side the shape of a finger, and concave eyes. My mother told me the cleaner I could cut it, the happier my marriage would be. But I slashed it on the tile floor on purpose with an X-Acto knife in many messy slices, and it sobbed as it bled. I didn’t wash the blood off before I put my dress on. I wanted to keep some of the cow on my body.

The wedding was on a tall hill lined with olive trees. I wore a dress whose gray silk reminded me of cobwebs. Orpheus looked me in the eyes and said, I do.

I looked at my mother. I looked at Zoe. I looked at the olive trees around me. I looked at the blood on my arm and I said it back. I do.

The band played old songs from when we were teenagers, throwback songs that everyone gyrated to like animals, with loud beats and thumping bass. Then Orpheus rose from his chair and tapped the microphone.

I have written a song, he said, for my wife.

When he said “wife” there was something new in the way he said it. Like I had become a thing I wasn’t before. Like I was no longer me. I was this thing, this thing called a wife.

He sang the song, and for the first time, I was not lost in it. Instead I felt terribly, insufferably alive. My brain could hear every conversation at the party, even sounds miles off. I felt every part of my body: my arms, my legs, my toes, and my fingernails. And all the colors were turned up, as if on a scale, to blindingly, horrifyingly bright. I could not hear a word he sang. But I could hear everything else.

I ran from the bustle and the lights, but the farther I ran, the louder and brighter it became. I could hear bears growling in the trees and rivers rushing over faraway hillsides. Every time my sandal touched the ground, I could feel each pebble, each particle of dirt below. I could taste the air in my mouth, and it was so bitter I felt like I would gag.

A green snake the color of a broken bottle was sliding next to me. In another state of mind, I would not have noticed it. But as it was, I heard its every slither, felt the grass move as it parted it. And so I did what I had wanted to do for so long. I took my sandal off and placed it beside me. Then I brought my foot hard down on the snake’s face.

I clasped my ears to stop the sound of its hissing. When I brought my foot up, its fangs pierced deep into the arch. The pain was so great I could no longer hear or taste or see. Cool relief spilled over me.

How to describe what it is like not to be alive? It is like describing the rainbow to someone who is colorblind. All you know, everything in your life, is alive. The way your toes feel chilled outside with no shoes on a winter’s night. Your first teacher’s smile. Potato chips. These are all alive things. What I felt like was nothing like that. What I felt was like another color in the rainbow.

I lay on the ground until I observed a pair of sandals, bright blue and green, with Velcro straps and wings on either side of them, in the ground beside me.


Hermes had a weather-beaten face and bushy eyebrows. He spoke as if he had to chew each word to get it out properly.


But I liked lying in the grass. I told him I would stay.


I tried to close my eyes so I could not see him. But instead he lifted me without using his hands, and I began to float beside him. We floated over the ocean, and I tried to dip my toes in as we glided, but I could feel nothing. How strange, to miss that feeling when I had no memory of ever feeling it before.

He left me on the bank of a river, and he placed a cool coin in my mouth.


I rolled the metal with my tongue, the copper acidic in my mouth. Somewhere in the air I thought I heard a voice crying, Eurydice! It was a voice I knew, but I could not name it.

A teal paddleboat approached with Charon at the front, his night-black cloak covering his face. I walked closer to let him pull the penny out from my mouth, but he shook his head.

ONE MORE, he growled.

I told him this was the only coin I had.

ONE MORE, he repeated.

I could see cracked yellow teeth under his hood when he spoke. From behind me came footsteps. I turned and there was a woman with red hair walking down the beach. She came close and hugged me.

Eurydice, she whispered. My best friend, Eurydice.


COINS, Charon huffed.

We opened our mouths for him, and he placed a twiggy finger under our tongues. His nail scraped the meaty bottom of my mouth as he dragged it out.

I followed you, Zoe said as we stepped onto the back of the boat.

I did not know how much I wanted her there until she was.

I worried I would not catch you, she continued.

I looked at her.

Thank you, I said.

We passed Cerberus, barking from all three heads.

Do you remember the labradoodle that almost bit you when we were in sixth grade? she asked.

I remembered. It was the first time I laughed in the afterlife.

Charon pedaled us to another bank, this time muddy and putrid. There was a brick archway there, crumbling on either side, with nothing behind. Down the beach were creatures like animals, but they were hazy as if made of smoke and darted back and forth like characters in a video game.

It smells awful, doesn’t it? Zoe said.


Maybe we’ll see our old teacher, Miss Gray, Zoe continued as she helped me out of the boat. She was so lovely. Remember how we used to talk about her?


Zoe blushed.

The beach was full of black mud, and it sent a chill up my left foot. I was still wearing only one sandal. So I sat down, dirtying my dress, and I unfastened the other. It was eerie; this place I had dreamed of was right in front of me, and yet I had no desire to keep walking. I figured it must be fatigue. I had just died, after all. And gotten married. That made it the busiest day of my life.

Three old men in crowns walked out of the archway. They had cottony beards and prune-like faces. One of them said:


The others nodded.

I turned to see Charon, but he had disappeared. When I turned back, Zoe and I were in endless, chalky fields. It had been getting dimmer and dimmer, and now it seemed there were no longer colors. I tried very hard to remember the color of Orpheus’s hair. Was it dark or light? It was . . . one or the other.

There was a man sitting in the corner with a hole in his stomach the size of a knot of rope. He was fighting with a woman with veiny arms. Further down, a young boy was bobbing an action figure up and down. No one looked sad exactly, but there was no joy anywhere.

Are you happy? Zoe asked. Does this make you happy?

I took in a long breath of air.

It makes me happy that you are here.

I tried to remember some of Orpheus’s songs but I couldn’t. I kept humming, and muttering, Baby, oh, baby oh, as if that were a song, but it didn’t sound like anything. Zoe began chatting with the other people in the meadows. The young man, she learned, had died in a war, and the woman had taken her own life to be with him. Now they fought constantly. There were women who liked the same TV shows as Zoe. The boy with the action figure had been obsessed with math, wanted to be an engineer like his father. I sat by myself and dreamed of talking to Orpheus again.

It was not long before a woman with short hair noticed me humming to myself.

Are you trying to sing? she asked, and I nodded. You can’t sing here. There’s no music.

She must have seen my face, because she continued, I do a little thing where I repeat a word. Like: Artichoke. Artichoke. Artichoke. I say it over and over again and it becomes like a song.

I walked away from her. She muttered something under her breath.

You could try to be kind, now that it doesn’t matter, said Zoe.

I turned. She was watching me, as always.

I kept walking. I muttered, artichoke, artichoke, artichoke, thinking maybe if I could make a song Orpheus would hear it and bring me back. I tried tapping on trees to a beat, but it was impossible to make a pattern. Artichoke, artichoke, artichoke, I muttered. He would hear me if I kept at it. If I made him a song.

I don’t think you love him, said Zoe. Not really. I think his pull on you is strong, but I don’t think you love him, in your heart. He doesn’t even know you. Not like I do.

I kept banging on the trees, now with a stick. And I repeated, I love him I love him I love him, hoping it would make a song.

The young boy with the action figure screamed, Make her stop!

The lovers screeched, It’s unbearable!

And still I hit and repeated, I love him artichoke I love him artichoke I love him artichoke.

The woman with short hair held her hands to her ears. I sang for hours until it must have been another day, though of course nothing had changed.

Finally Persephone herself appeared. Her hair was filled with dried flowers, her dress seemed to lift her off the ground. She smelled like a scented candle.


I told her I was in love. That I had made a mistake. That I wanted back in the living.

NO, she replied. THAT IS NOT IT.

I miss his music, I can’t remember his face when I try to picture it, I—


And she disappeared.

Zoe sat with me as I waited. She stroked my hair with her fingers.

We are here together. Isn’t that enough? Come, let us sit together.

We began to talk, about our childhood together, the shows we’d watch on TV, watching murder mysteries under her heated blanket, writing plays and performing them for our parents. With Zoe there, the underworld felt familiar. It was the home I had dreamed of. But still I felt guilty, because I felt it was not right to Orpheus not to miss him.

I almost did not hear Orpheus behind me when he approached. There was a humming behind me and I turned. And as he grew closer, I heard it. Music. A song made of a tattered life. Weak in his throat, like he was grasping for water. He sang it in short breaths.
















That was the whole song. Just my name over and over again. To music. And his lyre.

His hair was brown. He was not so handsome now that he was here.

Persephone appeared. She smiled.


No! Zoe pleaded. He does not want to be here. He does not care. They made him come, and now he claims he came on his own.

If anyone knew my mind, it was her. She knew me inside out.

But it was Orpheus who responded:

I have come back for her. I have sung my song to get back to her. We shall grow old by the fire, we shall have children and animals, we shall do the things that people do, all the time, for the rest of our lives.

It sounded terrible. I could not bear it. But what could I do? I had not been happy in life. I had not been happy in death. I had gotten what I wanted every time, and still I felt the clawing on my skin of restless need. Zoe was staring at me, in her eyes the knowledge of my dissatisfaction. I screamed.

I want I want I want, I yelled. I want I want I want.

But nothing changed.

Come, said Orpheus. We shall be happy.

I looked at Zoe.

Must I leave her?

Persephone smiled.


Zoe’s lips parted as if she were about to speak a word. She stood there, her auburn hair on her shoulders, the person who had followed me, the only person who would have.

But she was a friend. Orpheus was my husband.

I turned to follow him.

We walked through the meadows until we came to a door. He opened the door and left it ajar for me, and I followed.

Eurydice, he called. Are you there?


The door brought us to a swampy cave where creatures with wings like bats but skinny bodies like snakes flew back and forth. And as we walked, I could see him listening for my footsteps behind him. At the end of the cave there was a light into a gray wilderness as cold as winter, but without snow. There were black pools that we scooted around.

Eurydice, he called, are you still there?


At the end of the wilderness there was a lake made of muddy, chalky sea. On our side was a plastic canoe, and he sat down, looking forward. I sat behind him, looking back, and he heard me sit. We rode to the other side with tall and orange cliffs. He walked out, and I followed him.

Eurydice, he called, did you make it?

I paused. I wasn’t sure that I wanted him to know I was there. I thought I heard Zoe calling me again, but it was just the wind. I wanted to be back there. I did not want to go with him.

As I waited, Orpheus turned.

I saw for a second the brown hair, the look of concern on his face. The way his mouth hung agape in horror of what he had done. And then I was back in the fields with Zoe, her thin dress hanging off her body, her red hair, and her smile. To be known by her, in life and in death. I took her soft arms in mine, like velvet in my hands.

I want I want I want.

Anna-Claire McGrath (she/her) is a 2022 Clarion Workshop grad and has an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has been published in McSweeney’s, Blood Orange Review, and New Delta Review, among others. You can find more of her work at annaclairemcgrath.com. She lives in Virginia where she spends most of her time watching TV shows about vampires.

Return to Issue #34 | Support The Deadlands

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top