Saturnalia | by Claire Hansen

     Every year on the eve of the full Capricorn moon is Saturnalia; a celebration of freedom, a display of unrestricted acceptance and unity. The popular and the pariah become one. The gods and goddesses descend from their lofty palaces in heaven to join in on the jubilation. Even Cronus himself takes off his crown for the night and feasts.

     Sofea finishes her daily rituals to her goddess, Aphrodite. Outside her window, the street signs are being decorated with homemade paper lanterns, and her neighbors are stringing fairy lights through the willows near the pond. The sun has not quite reached its zenith, and she realizes she finished her daily rituals much earlier than she has been the past several months. She is vaguely aware that she should be somewhere else—perhaps down the street—helping prepare the cakes for the festivities later on. She continues to gaze out the window, just for a few more minutes, and plans her Saturnalia, the night of spontaneity.

     The clean, stony streets are shining with water as Sofea walks down them. She keeps her sleepy gaze focused ahead of her. The way to the bakery is familiar, so she fantasizes about Azure, the daughter of Gemini she sees in the library every so often, the one who smirks at her when they both make eye contact. With sunlight as its canvas, Azure’s skin is regally luminous, and Sofea imagines that in the warm lights of Saturnalia tonight, her skin will look like fiery onyx. Heat collects in her hips.

     The bakery whistles and howls and bubbles as it always does the afternoon of Saturnalia. After gathering her tools, Sofea settles in between two daughters of Aries to ice a cake. They do not notice her, and she thanks Aphrodite. They chatter about the makeup they will wear, the wine they want to sample, and the sons of Virgo they intend to play with that night. Their voices swirl into a single one, sending Sofea spinning into another daydream about Azure, who, just two weeks ago, seemed so fascinated by the intricate patterns on a cake, and praised Sofea upon learning that she was the one who created the design, which made Sofea’s nerves fray and melt.

     Three hours before sunset, all of the shops close, and everyone goes to their homes to prepare themselves for Saturnalia. Sofea showers and scrubs her body with raspberry scented salts. She sprays herself with perfume her goddess blessed, through a priestess, several months ago. She puts on the beads from her altar, the ones she and all the other daughters of Sagittarius only wear on Saturnalia. She wonders what Azure will think when she sees her waist lined so perfectly in the iridescent dress she bought just for tonight, and pictures both of them dancing in the soft light of the paper lanterns, not feeling ashamed of their essence.

     When the moon begins to glow, people arrive in the plaza, kissing, and immediately find their gods and goddesses to greet them. Sofea takes a sip of wine before finding Aphrodite, who surely feels the fluttering in her chest.

     “I would like to show you something tonight,” she is forced to lean in already, “will you be watching me?”

     Aphrodite nods with a graceful smile. Sofea notices Azure across the plaza, and shivers. She sways over to her, and timidly greets her.

     “I’ve dreamed about us every night this month,” she says, looking Sofea up and down, “you always look so beautiful.”

     The two move towards the center of the plaza, unable to stop their hips from swinging to the music around them. They dance under their sun signs, then closer to each other, then hold hands. The sons of Taurus have started to run off into the grass with the daughters of Leo, but Sofea and Azure continue their waltz, and laugh together over pastries and poetry. Sofea leans in to take in Azure’s scent—lemon. Azure rests her hand on Sofea’s head, keeping her breath against her neck.

     “Please don’t stop; I love this.”

     Any other night, their light would escape them. Gravity couldn’t contain it, and it’d shine too brightly for anyone’s comfort.

     But on Saturnalia, nature bends itself, and the universe follows.

     Sofea takes Azure into her arms and kisses her for the first time that season. Light pulses through them. She feels her Saturnalia lover running her fingers through her coils and smiling against her lips. The two never stop dancing together, or with the gods. The daughter of Gemini leads Sofea into the darkness. The liquid rhythms of the song are muted, but they soon melt away, along with the rest of the world, along with the two lovers.

     The night starts to dissolve into sunrise. The two lovers, exhausted and blissful, lay in each other’s arms. Azure’s fingers massage Sofea’s shoulders. She is limp and nearly dreaming. Sofea stays tense underneath her lover’s touch. As the sky shifts, a shriek erupts from her. She stumbles over tangled bodies, into the plaza, tripping over herself to catch Aphrodite’s robe before she ascends into heaven.

     “Please,” as has been her supplication for the past eleven months. Three years ago, it was an elaborate prayer, involving possession and trembling, making her rituals last for hours. Two years ago, she prayed with promises, fasting, denial, and deprivation. As desperation wore on, the prayer evolved into a suffocating, six-letter plea.

     “Aphrodite, haven’t you feel the ache in my chest? Was my longing sour enough tonight? My goddess, will you let this daughter of Gemini become my peace? Will you bend this world for our safe existence?”

     Aphrodite pulls away from her, raises her hands, and collects the last remaining stars. She laughs and coaxes them into new alignments, then retreats to her heavenly home. Sofea returns to the daughter of Gemini and kisses her lips, as she always does the morning after Saturnalia. The light that races through them is held between their bodies. The world softens.




Claire Hansen is a poet, semicolon addict, and psychology student. She has a passion for language and self-expression. She currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She tweets @words_by_claire. 

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