Second Half Title
When I was a little girl, I still believed I was part of the world’s secret magic.
Mother wrapped her hair elegantly in white cloth. I begged and pleaded until she did mine as well. At the river, Mother gathered pebbles and sand, small plants, sun-bleached bones. I splashed along the banks, or rode on female hippos if Taweret, my aunt and the goddess of childbirth, was with us.
But my favorite place to be, even more than in the brilliant sun reflecting off the water of the Nile, was with my father. When I was old enough to navigate the steep, worn steps by myself, I was there every minute Mother allowed. As soon as I finished my morning worship, I’d skip straight down. Coloring on the floor next to Father’s knees as he nodded and watched things I couldn’t see. Giggling as I ran between Ammit’s unmoving lion and hippo legs. Memorizing the pictures along the walls, making up stories for the people portrayed there.
Mother gave me my very own paints, and Father proudly gave me a room. I’d never been happier. Countless hours down there I painted, sketched, planned. I drew the stories of my life on those walls, filled them with the people and places I loved. My mom, beautiful and strong. My dad, serene and kind. Grandma Nut stretching across the sky to watch us all. They were my family; they were my story.
My cat, cranky old Ubesti, came down with me sometimes, though she much preferred the warm, sunlit stones under the skylights in our house. One morning when I was barely thirteen, I decided I needed a live model for her newest portrait on my walls. She was in her usual spot, mangy fur dull and matted even in the light. I went to pick her up, expecting a yowl of protest, but was met instead with a limp, lifeless body.
My mother immediately knew something was wrong and came into the room to find me crying. She consoled me with a hug that soothed my hiccupping sobs, and a kiss that made my head stop hurting from the tears.
“Don’t worry, Little Heart,” she said. “How would you like Ubesti to be yours forever?”
I nodded, desperate. I’d seen my mother heal sick locals, witnessed her save a baby others had given up for dead. She was magic. Surely bringing my elderly cat back from death would be no problem—after all, she’d resurrected my father. Death was not a barrier for Isis.
She took Ubesti’s body from my arms and told me to meet her downstairs in my room. I nearly tripped in my haste to get there, pacing with nervous excitement. Even after all the potions and amulets I’d helped her with, she’d never done actual spells for me, and at that moment I loved her even more than I knew possible.
My father came in, smiling his soft, distant smile, and my mother followed him, beaming and carrying a large jar in her hands. It was carved with glyphs, the lid shaped like a cat’s head, all made in precious alabaster.
“What’s that?” I asked, eager to see what resurrection required.
“This is the vessel that will carry Ubesti to the other side, where she will wait for you.” Osiris nodded solemnly as my mother handed him the jar and he placed it on the large block of stone that I used as a table in the middle of the room.
“Wait—other side? What other side?”
“The afterlife,” my father said, looking at me with pride in his eyes. “I am pleased you chose her as a companion for your journey through death.”
I staggered back, staring in horror at the jar I now realized contained my cat. “You—she’s not coming back to life?”
“No, Little Heart, not to this life.”
The world shifted. My childhood rewrote itself, everything changing as I realized what this room was, what the person-sized, rectangular stone box was. “This is a tomb. This is my tomb.” I could barely see my parents through my tears, but their smiles hadn’t changed.
“Of course,” my mother said.
“I’m going to die?”
“Everything dies.” My mother took a few steps toward me, but I held up my hands, blocking her.
“You don’t die! He doesn’t die!”
“No, Little Heart, but you—”
“You’re going to just let me die? And put me in there, all by myself, forever?”
“You won’t be alone. You’ll be with your father and all your brothers and sisters who have gone before you.”
“But I won’t be here!”
“You don’t care? That doesn’t make you sad? You’re not going to do anything to stop it?”
Finally my mother caught on, and her expression softened. “Oh, Isadora, when you understand—”
I ran out of that horrible room. For the first time in my life I did understand. All of the stories, the histories I’d been raised on? I had no part in them. My parents brought me into the world to die. They didn’t love me enough to keep me forever—they didn’t even pretend like they did. My entire childhood of warmth and love was a drawing in the sand—impermanent and fragile and gone in a breath of wind.
Just like me.
Nut, the sky goddess, had disobeyed Amun-Re god of the sun. She’d taken the god of the earth as a lover. Amun-Re feared that introducing more gods into the world would create an imbalance of power.
Amun-Re put a curse on her that she could not give birth on any day of the year. But Amun-Re did not account for Thoth, gentle god of wisdom and writing. Thoth challenged the Moon herself to a game, and won enough light to create new days. Because those days were not cursed, Nut was able to give birth to Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys.