The real story was that Echo and Narcissus had known each other for many, many years. That’s not the popular version, where Echo is cursed by a vengeful goddess to always repeat the last word spoken to her and Narcissus, meeting her in the forest, disdainfully rejects her in favour of his one great love: his reflection.
Echo and Narcissus by Gabe Walker
That’s not what happened. Echo and Narcissus first met a long time ago, in a land shrouded in fog and history. They were two of an ever-changing group, young adventurers exploring, seeking their fortune. One by one they scattered to the four corners of the earth, yet some managed to weave their paths in and out of each other’s lives.
Years went by.
For a long time Echo and Narcissus heard tales of each other through their fellow-adventurers. If they’d really thought about it, neither could remember a single instance of time they spent alone together. They were both in the background of the other’s memories, a shared past but nothing specific. Echo remembered him as brash and over-confident, not someone she’d ever sat and just talked to. For a long time when Narcissus recalled her to mind there was only a vague impression of a girl smiling and laughing. No definite memories for either, but they were fond of each other. Or at least if they ever thought of the other it was with vague fondness.
Who really knows how or why? Maybe Aphrodite was feeling capricious and yearned for entertainment. Maybe she set her winged son Eros to pierce their skin with his sweet poisoned arrow. Neither Echo nor Narcissus could explain why that fire between happened so quickly, but the reason it was extinguished was entirely due to their own natures. Narcissus saw only himself in the encounter while Echo heard too many past disappointments repeating in her mind as her lover turned from her.
Narcissus felt his homeland was too small for one of his extraordinary talents. He knew where he belonged, where he’d always belonged. A city that was full of stars and stories and silver screen magic. The inhabitants of the city were even known to the rest the world by his own name, narcissists. It was his city.
Echo, during that time, tried not to let the sound of her damaged heart and pride drown out all other noise. She smiled, although not as broad as before, and she laughed, though not as quickly as before. This wasn’t her first heartbreak, nor even her third or fifth, but it was the first from someone she’d thought of as a friend.
But there’s still always that thin scar to show where the break was. Echo’s feet became restless and she dreamt of going back out into the world. After all if you can’t have love, you can have adventures and see the world. She laid her plans, excited by the possibility of excitement itself.
It meant going to his town.
She hadn’t decided if she would see Narcissus. She didn’t even know if she wanted to see him. But the Fates, Clotho and her sisters, had other ideas it seems, measuring out the fabric of Echo’s life and weaving Narcissus back into its pattern. He heard she would be in his town and contacted her. He had no recriminations, it was understandable Echo had been upset at their parting, he was extraordinary after all. And he thought of her as she’d been when she arrived that night, flushed cheeks and eyes wide with adventure. He’d enjoyed having that effect on her. She wasn’t the first woman he’d affected like that, not the thirteenth or even the twenty-fifth (as he’d told her,) but that was him all over, giving pleasure to other people.
He wanted them to be together again.
It was true the night hadn’t gone as either had thought it would, but that was last year, it was different now, Narcissus said. Echo hesitated, but not for long, Eros must have sharpened his arrows to a fine point to break through her reserve again.
And so the messages started, back and forth across the world, passion and excitement pulsing through each one. Echo laughed even more delightedly than before, her smile even wider.
He’d met someone else, he wrote to her. Sure the timing wasn’t good, but it was early days and it wasn’t serious yet, there was no reason why he and Echo couldn’t explore this passion when she was here, he still wanted her, it’s just that they’d never promised there wouldn’t be other people, and surely she'd be okay to wait for him to see if this other love was serious.
And again the echoes clamoured in her head, of words he’d said last year, identical words and how after he said them, he treated her as though she had entrapped him against his will, and made him a betrayer. He hadn’t seen Echo was the one betrayed.
She hit out in her fury, “How could you do this again? Do I mean so little?” He didn’t want to hear her anger. “I don’t want to talk about last year, I’ve learnt from that, I’ve moved on, I’m a better person now.” “Clearly you’re not,” she spat back, anger preferable to tears.
Echo confided in friends who knew them both- the Nereid of the Adriatic, the Lady of the Crystal Fjord and the Angel of Enlightened Thought (the Angel of Enlightened Thought argued that her name was an oxymoron, since enlightened thinking could not support the existence of an unproven deity or its representative, until Echo said that ‘angel’ was the remnants of an old word meaning messenger. “Like Fedex. We could call you the Postal Service of Enlightened Thought, but it isn’t very catchy”).
They were sympathetic but baffled. They were fond of Narcissus but they knew his nature just as well as Echo had once done. It was the Nereid who explained it first, both Echo and Narcissus were story tellers and had fallen into a story. This story was all about old friends seeing each other anew, and in those stories they were friends first, lovers second, estranged and then reunited. The Angel and the Lady nodded in agreement, acts one and two had happened, but the final act, the reunion and overcoming misunderstandings, had gone wrong.
Stories, they’ll get you every time.
And Echo knew how that older story of their names ended, how that other Echo had faded away with grief until all that was left was her once beautiful voice. She knew too the Narcissus in that story was so enraptured by his image, he became stuck to one spot, transfixed by his own perfection. And this Narcissus saw only himself, those other women he put before her reflections of what he thought he was.
Echo opened the machina ex deus, that remarkable object that connected so many, showing visions and thoughts and moments in their lives. She found the thread in the machine that linked his name to hers and cut it, severing their connection.
She didn’t care if he became lost in his world of mirrors and reflections, she was real, she had her own stories to tell.
She wouldn’t be that other Echo. She wouldn’t fade away.