The Opposite of Midas by Evan E. Roberts

His fingers lightly graze the sharp, metallic edge and it immediately turns to ash. Wasted. Useless. A mere grey shadow of its former strength. The feeling of utter disappointment was crushing. Instead of the sharp, hot pain of a cut his fingers were dusted with the soot of the knife. And it was like that with everything – his car, his remote, and his favorite golf clubs – all diminished to nothing by his most minute touch. Lost in thought, he ponders with fear the inevitable instance where the very tile he walks on melts beneath his feet. Why is this happening?

Just yesterday he was his own version of normal, driving around town without a care in the world. Well, mostly without a care. He had everything a person could want; the house, the wife, the kids, the dog. He had it all. And he had worked for it all from the bottom, endlessly, tirelessly building his business, to see his passion turn a profit. It was the American way. Now, years later, he stood a success, by his and anyone else’s standards. His wealth wasn’t innumerable but he was comfortable and had excess. His kids were educated in the Montessori method, a point in which he took great pride. He was respected, in his community and nationally, having received great recognition for his charitable giving and support of non-profits that truly fulfilled on their promise to improve the quality of life of others. He had given to his church, well above the tithe of obedience. And he had done it all selflessly, asking for nothing in return and giving wholly of his self. Why would such a man be so horribly cursed?
           
And how did it start? There seem to be no obvious moments that stick out as the catalyst for his perversion.
           
He had loved his wife, maintaining his commitment to their vows through their entire marriage, including her tragically short bout with Alzheimer’s. He had held her hand and sang songs of adoration to her, even when she didn’t know his name. And when her eyes stared blankly at his face, pools of loss, he met them dead-on with unadulterated love.
           
He had been a good father, doting on his children with gifts even when it wasn’t warranted. He had taught them the meaning of loyalty, honesty and working hard for what you want. He had kept nothing from them. They knew they were rich but they were not brats. They looked up to him and wanted to be like him, even volunteering once they had reached adolescence.
           
His son had been the pride of his eye, the spitting image of his father in every possible way. Junior was driven, determined and most of all stubborn, a young man who drew a hard line on issues of right and wrong and who wasn’t afraid to call out those he deemed immoral. He had a strong sense of justice and was on the career path to becoming the world’s first truly honorable politician. He was the manifestation of his father’s dreams of purity.
           
His daughter moved with grace and ease through every level of society, bestowing a kind, helping hand on the poor and broken people she encountered, always willing to lend a hand or sensitive ear to relieve their problems. Her heart bled for the ill in the world, and this predilection led her to pursuing a career in medicine. Her kindness was not to be taken as weakness however, as she displayed a veracious appetite for knowledge and a remarkable retention of facts and trivia of all types. As smart and loving as she was, she also had the kind of classic beauty that brought her admirers from every age of man.
           
His children physically embodied the good that he had brought into the world, full of vigor and promise.

Still, he was plagued.
           
His thoughts left his predicament for a moment and drifted toward the last time he had eaten. It seemed like decades, but in reality had only been a few hours. Had he known it would be his last meal, he wouldn’t have rushed through the bowl of cold cereal. He should have drunk the milk in the bowl. His mouth felt dry and his lips were caked with ashen dust, symptom of a futile attempt to chew a stick of gum.
           
He never imagined that this would be the end. In all of humanity, whose life had ever taken such a dour turn? Job maybe, if that were even a real story. And heck, even that guy got everything back, multiplied by seven. Somehow it didn’t seem like that was how this was going to go for him.
           
Then too, there was Midas. Hands trembling he entertained the thought. No. That was a silly children’s story, it had to be a myth. Wasn’t it? It certainly seemed true enough now. A quiet loneliness set in and he listened for any other signs of life, anyone with whom to share this ridiculous theory and the pain of his loss.
           
Maybe he should try again. Maybe it would wear off with time. Moving from his spot in the kitchen where he had been standing, he kept his eyes glued to the tile, watching it carefully as he cautiously stepped over the pile of ashen dust that used to be the knife. Reaching across the counter he hesitated just a bit, drawing from deep pools of hope to strengthen his resolve. Just touch it already. And as quickly as he did, the drinking glass disintegrated. His hope dashed. His strength was gone, fallen the length of the counter to the ground with the ash that sifted through his spread fingers.
           
Slowly he sank to the cold floor, his mind racing with a million thoughts as sharp pangs pierced his chest, and he tried to pick one thought deserving of his focus.
           
He had to figure this out, before it was too late. Obviously he’d get no answers in his home. Where could he go to work out such a complex problem? He was hungry and tired and had begun to smell, not terribly but noticeably. He was still a man, after all.
           
His thoughts returned to redemption and where in his shrinking world it might be found. Thinking, thinking, thinking – he was always a thinking man – a man of decisive power, but also of fairness and faith. In fact, he couldn’t think of any ways he could be more dissimilar to that wretched myth of a king.
           
Midas.
           
The thought of a worse fate than him seemed disgusting and cruel.
           
But no, that couldn’t be it. Midas had prayed for his golden touch, and his shortsighted request showed the he loved his wealth, more than even his daughter. His curse befell him from his lust for gold and his blind stupidity to the truly important things in life. When he touched an apple and it turned to gold, it symbolized his depravity and vicious greed. Only then had he known wanting, longing, and loneliness. Upon realization of his plight, he learned to desire the love of his family, and its lively purity.
           
But Midas’ cure – it was bathing in the river wasn’t it? Maybe that would work for him too. Invigorated by the thought, he gathered himself and walked with haste toward the nearest body of water he could find.
           
The sun beat down as he trekked outside, reminding him of his limitations as well as his plight. Any attempts to cool down – fan, hat, and water bottle – dissolved as quickly as the thought entered his brain. He’d have to bear it but surely a positive attitude would win him favor with the gods or God; whoever was responsible for this tragedy. As he talked to himself, he was almost convinced the Midas theory would prove accurate. Somewhere high in the heavens, the Devil must have gotten drunk and fell asleep in Jesus’ garden. Upon waking with a hangover, the Devil took two aspirin and immediately sought to inflict pain elsewhere, to give someone a piece of that which he was experiencing. Jesus, not one to miss an opportunity for instruction, told the Devil he could inflict pain on only one, a mortal whose record for good was impeccable. So everyone else had failed, and he had won (or lost, perspective dependent). Surely all he had to do was pray for Jesus to allow the Devil to remove the curse, fall asleep and when he woke up and bathed in some body of water, he would be cured. It sounded simple enough.
           
This scenario planning kept his mind occupied as he wandered aimlessly about town, desperately searching for a body of water to enter. He crossed to a bridge that ran over the canal, his nostrils involuntarily inhaling the rank stench of the water below. The sulfurous smell was overwhelming and for a moment he rethought certain details of his plan.
           
But it was the only rational thing to do, given the situation. It had to work.
           
On his way across the bridge toward the bank of the canal, he stopped and watched the murk as it crawled through the tunnel, surely headed for some river or estuary. He should have studied more local geography.
           
Ugh, gross. This was so foul and he could hardly stand it. But he stepped in anyway, shuddering with disgust. There seemed something almost poetic in finding the resolution to his troubles in the canal – in washing away his affliction in afflicted waters.
           
In his mind he felt the cold, foul water wash over him, cleansing him of all iniquity. In reality, the water dried up into the ground, covering the canal bottom with a gray and black ash. He collapsed to his knees, knee-deep in ash and cried aloud at the horror of it all. Nothing could save him. He was doomed.
           
Frustrated and defeated he sat in ash, with a clear mind for the first time in a long time. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. Aside from the obvious, of course. Still, he had never gotten to the answer that tugged at his heart the most: Why him? Even if he could never rid himself of the plague that had befallen him, the knowledge of its origin would at least give him some peace of mind.
           
Rising from the ash, he returned his thoughts to finding a solution, anything to rid him of this terrible curse. As he climbed the bank and headed back toward his home he caught a familiar whiff of barbecue smoke in the air, the subtle reminder that this was a holiday weekend. Families across the county were out grilling and roasting large pigs on spits over bonfires to celebrate their freedom. But he had no reason to celebrate, not enslaved to a life of isolation and disintegration. Let them carry on with their barbecues, flags and bonfires. He would be fine.
           
Fine. What a stupid word. People only ever said they were fine when they most certainly were not fine, in a futile attempt to dismiss their problems as something other than dire and extinguish the goodwill of those reaching out to help them. No one is ever fine; there is no medium. You’re hot or you’re cold. You’re dry or you’re wet. Hot. Cold. Wet. Dry. Ash.
           
No. It was like his brain was on autopilot firing suddenly on all cylinders, frantic to find another, less terrifying solution. Anything but the thought flickered at the edge of his mind, growing the more he tried to extinguish it like some wild, untamable flame.
           
But he knew there was no other way and as his brain scrambled to find a way out of it, his body walked to find a way into it. To find a fire.
           
After what seemed like hours, he stumbled upon an abandoned bonfire surrounded by a large stone pit on the outskirts of town behind a large country home, the flames crackling, almost as if whoever started it would return at any moment. If that were the case, he would have to hurry. No one should have to see this kind of thing.

There were no cars in the long gravel driveway that led from the road he had walked up, and it was clear that whoever lived here would be gone for quite some time.

His eyes took in the glow, realizing that this was the only solution to his problem, unattractive though it may be.
           
Quietly, carefully, he stepped forward, warming from the blaze that glowed before him. It was hot, too hot, but his resolve was as strong as tempered steel. He would not budge. He would not cry out. He would simply have to burn.

           
Engulfed in the flames, his soul passed from his body mercifully, the embers searing through the flesh of his feet, arms, chest and eyes. His skin bubbled as his body’s chemistry fed the fire. Ash to ash.
           

Maybe, it seems, the opposite of Midas lies not in intent, but in consequence.

© Evan Roberts 2013

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