THE JUDGMENT OF MANHATTAN
Hephaestus lowers the net back to the couch and lets it expand so his prisoners can at least sit comfortably. They can stand up, but they can't go far.
"Goddess," he says, "in the matter of Hephaestus v. Aphrodite, you are charged with being an unfaithful wife. How do you plead?"
Aphrodite considers. "Amused."
"You're in contempt of court," Hephaestus says. "How do you plead?"
"On which charge?" asks the goddess. "Infidelity, or contempt?"
Hephaestus's nostrils flare. This is already off to a terrible start. "Both."
"Ah," she says. "Guilty on both counts. But I don't mean to be contemptible."
Hephaestus pauses. "You plead guilty?"
She nods. "Um-hm."
"Oh." He hadn't expected this. The clever lines he'd prepared, the scalding words, they desert him like traitors.
"I've disappointed you." Aphrodite's voice oozes with sympathy anyone would swear is sincere. "Would it make you feel better to present your evidence anyway?"
Who's manipulating whom here?
She's not afraid. No amount of evidence will matter.
But Hephaestus spent months gathering it, so he submits it for the court.
The lights dim. A succession of images appears in the air before them like a Technicolor film in their own hotel room. The goddess of love and the god of war, kissing under a shady bower. On the snowcapped rim of Mount Popocatépetl at sunset. Cuddling on the shoulder of an Easter Island statue. On the white sand beaches beneath the sheer cliffs of Smugglers' Cove, on Greece's own Zakynthos Island.
"Hermes," mutters Aphrodite darkly. "Zeus never should've given him a camera."
If Hephaestus had expected his wife to writhe in embarrassment at this damning proof, he has only disappointment for his efforts. She's shameless. His brother is shameless. He was a fool to think he could shame either of them.
The images fade. Silence falls.
Aphrodite watches her husband.
Hephaestus's thoughts swirl. What had he expected? A tearful apology? A pledge to be true? He should've known this would never work.
But he'd been desperate. Even Olympians, when desperate, can't think straight. Of all the beings in the cosmos, Hephaestus is the only one who can't pray to the goddess of love for help with his marriage troubles. The poor sap hasn't a clue.
"Hephaestus," Aphrodite says gently, "this trial was never to get me to admit something you know I don't mind admitting, was it?"
"You should mind."
"Your real question," she says, "if I'm not mistaken, is why don't I love you?"
"It's simple," Ares says. "She loves me."
Something is apparently hilarious to Aphrodite. Ares's huge arms fold across his chest.
She wipes her eyes and speaks. "I don't love either of you." Ares sits up tall and thrusts out his lower lip.
"Hephaestus," Aphrodite continues. He feels like he's now in the witness stand. "Do you love me?"