In Pharaoh's Boatbydr_mabeuse©
Vanessa stood looking at the desiccated head of the mummy through the thick glass of the display case, staring through her own ghostly reflection at the grotesque face of a man who'd been dead for over four thousand years. The bandages had been carefully peeled back around the neck to expose his head, and that along with the thin grizzled neck gave him the appearance of an ancient vulture, his bare head emerging through a ruff of dirty feathers.
Vultures were sacred to the Egyptians, Vanessa remembered, as intermediaries who could bring the flesh of the dead to heaven where their bodies could be reassembled to join the great god Re in his solar bark in his glorious journey across the skies.
She read the name again on the display case though she knew it by heart: Sekhmenahmet, a minor Pharaoh of the third dynasty, about 4200 years old. Not for him the crude burial that depended on the vultures to gather his remains to the gods. He had been interred with full honors and glory as befit a King of Egypt.
He had been Pharaoh, the link between earth and heaven in a world where every eye could see god appear each morning in the East, sail through the heavens across the course of a day and disappear in a blaze of color in the West, where he would battle the demons and evils of the darkness in the underworld. Hard to imagine that this mummy's skin, now no more than a leather-colored peeling, once was alive and vibrant, and that he was caressed by lovers who longed for his touch, who whispered things to him in the darkness: words and promises probably not very different from the things lovers still whispered to one another today.
"Come my beloved, let us lie together. Come let us fuck in my bed beneath the stars. Let me take pleasure in your body. Put your mouth on me, touch me, suck me, make me come."
Vanessa caught herself, realizing that she was arousing herself with these thoughts, and that they were completely out of place in front of the dried corpse of a man who'd lived and died so many long centuries ago.
Everything about ancient Egypt seemed to have the same erotic fascination for her since her divorce, and she was powerless to explain it. The art spoke to her with a vivid immediacy that made the ancient, formalized paintings come alive to her, and looking at a scroll or frieze mounted on the museum's walls, she could imagine the roar of the chariots' wheels, the cries of battle; or in another hear the soft murmurs of the servants as they prepared the Master's meal and served it beside the ornamental pool in the coolness of the ancient evening. There was a placidity and sense of order she felt when she contemplated these scenes that she found calming and deeply satisfying, and that had helped her immeasurably over the most tumultuous times in her break-up.
No doubt the permanence and sense of order of Egypt had appealed to her as her own world fell apart. Her affair with this ancient world had begun just when her divorce had been finalized, on the very day, in fact, that she had signed the lawyers' papers. The ugly maneuvering of the lawyers and Brian's own anger and contempt had so upset her that she had left the office and simply walked, not seeing where she was going until she had found herself here, in front of the museum, and walked directly to the Egyptian exhibit.
Almost immediately she had felt soothed by the art and artifacts of the Egyptian collection, as if she had found the one cool place in a city of intense heat. The grandeur and sense of permanence of ancient Egyptian culture seemed to speak to her and told her something that she very much needed to hear, and she had been coming back ever since, drawn to the calm and quiet of the museum. She found that the dignity of the sculpture, the spare, elegant lines of the art, reached out to her with a message that was both profound and deeply soothing. She had never been one for art, had never seen the point, but now it seemed that the formal poses of the kings and their queens, the unvarying representations of strange gods and indecipherable hieroglyphics was all she could understand, and she understood it intuitively, without having to think about it.
Ancient Egypt made sense to her in a way her own life and world never would. Everything about it felt right, as if these people had really understood the world they lived in and were both satisfied and in love with it, and they had expressed their understanding in an art and architecture that was complete and consistent in itself, and had remained perfect and unchanged for thousands of years.
And within this formalized triumph of human understanding was something else: the compelling feeling of a great wisdom lost. Their art had not only grace and beauty, but great power as well. These were people whose gods still communed with them and guided them, who were never far away, who touched every aspect of their lives. She loved Egypt, and Egypt haunted her
She was daydreaming. The closing bell for the museum had sounded, and she was still standing transfixed in front of the display case. She wasn't worried. Since this obsession with Egypt had begun some months ago, she had become a regular at the museum, familiar to the staff and curators, and she knew that she still had time left before they got serious about clearing everyone out. She would end today's session with the book of spells called The Opening of the Way to the North. She always saved this scroll for last, so that she could leave the museum with it fresh in her mind.
She hiked her bag up on her shoulder and walked slowly back and away from the central hall, towards the end of the gallery. A few visitors passed her, heading for the exits. One woman, struggling with a crying infant in a stroller and a cranky toddler as well, stopped to smile at her. "I think they're closing." she offered, as if that explained the difficulty she was having with her children.
Vanessa forced an automatic smile. "Yes, I know. Thank you."
As the woman dragged her family away, the boy whined "That lady's staying! I wanna stay!"
"That woman probably works here." the woman said. She grabbed the boy's hand and she smiled apologetically as she dragged him away.
In her work clothes, Vanessa might be mistaken for a museum employee. No matter. She didn't bother to explain. Other visitors only distracted her and she was glad to see them go. This was the best time of day. Alone with Egypt.
The scroll was mounted unrolled in all its five feet of polychromatic glory behind a thick pane of Lucite, and even through the plastic it seemed alive with some sort of truly potent force. She couldn't read hieroglyphics, nor could she understand what the images were meant to represent, but still she responded to the power that had made them. She knew that it was a book of spells and magical incantations associated with preserving the Pharaoh's authority, but it seemed more to her than just that. There was some message it sent her, something it was saying that she could almost but not quite make out. It was as if someone were shouting to her from behind a thick door: she could hear their urgency but she couldn't understand the words.
The one image that always drew her most intense interest and curiosity was the central image of the Pharaoh as the Risen Osiris, the resurrected god, Master of Life and Death and source of all fecundity, all potency. The god was shown in the image of his living mummy, the lesser gods all around him paying homage. Strangely, he was leaning backwards, his body forming the hypotenuse of a right triangle. Craig had told her that this was the 3,4,5 right triangle with angles of sixty and thirty degrees, sacred to the Egyptians. He wore the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt and was surrounded by the symbols of power.
Most notable, though, was that his phallus was erect, and not only erect but in the act of ejaculating. The spurt of semen was clearly and deliberately depicted in the image in a graceful arc, just about to begin its descent. His cock was complete and proportionate, even his testicles were shown.
The first time she'd seen it, she had been frankly shocked at the idea of a sexual god of any kind, but as her infatuation with all things Egyptian grew, she began to see how necessary it was and how absurd and impoverished the idea of a non-sexual god really was. We are deeply sexual beings: sexuality permeates our lives, whether we want to admit it or not, and she suspected that it was always so. It was one of the great mysteries of human life, and unlike those other mysteries that begin and end our human lives, it was always with us.
As she'd become more comfortable with all things Egyptian, and as she compared Egyptian life to the life she knew today, it seemed more and more absurd to think that the religion she had been brought up in had practically nothing to say about sex: no insights, no wisdom, no explanation, no understanding other than the crudest moral guide that basically said: don't.
She became aware of foot steps approaching, echoing off the hard marble floor of the gallery floor. She recognized his step even before she shifted her focus to the Lucite and saw the ghostly reflection of Dr Robbins approaching her. His dark beard and curly hair shot with gray made him instantly recognizable
"Closing time, Vanessa." he said.
"Yes, I heard." she said without turning around.
She felt him stop next to her but she didn't stir. Of all the people she knew, he was the one she was most able to tolerate; everyone else seemed to irritate her. He was certainly the only man she had any interest in talking to, and that only for his knowledge of Egypt: they'd never talked of their personal lives. Vanessa had seen the ring on his finger, but she had no interest in him as a man anyhow: she was still too raw from her divorce. She had noticed with some amusement that she found him appealing, but that was no more important to her than the color of his hair or the fact that he wore glasses. She knew that her body still found certain men appealing; she could feel it. She found this attraction mildly interesting and occasionally troublesome, just as she viewed her own attractiveness to men: a minor bother or nuisance, something to be avoided
"That scroll just fascinates you, doesn't it?" he said. It really wasn't a question that needed an answer.
She had wanted to ask him about the scroll for weeks, especially about the priapic Osiris, but it was a topic that seemed impossible to broach. Even now, with the image right before them, she was unable to mention it, and he seemed to choose to ignore it.
"Ten minutes, Okay Vanessa?" he said and he began to walk away.
"Why is he erect?" Vanessa heard herself ask. She kept her eyes on the scroll, afraid to look at him.
He stood for a moment, then walked back. Vanessa was an attractive and intelligent woman, and she always came here alone; always left alone. He knew her only from the talks they had on the artifacts in the Egyptian gallery: she was one of the public the museum served. But now something embarrassingly male in him reacted to her question. Perhaps the sound of the word coming from her lips; perhaps just the knowledge that she was looking at an image of a god's phallus at its moment of triumph, discharging its seed, giving life.
"That's a very good question," he said, forcing a little laugh. Vanessa didn't seem to notice. "How much time do you have?"
Now she looked at him. Her eyes were a very clear, very deep brown. "Is it really that complicated?" she asked.
He laughed again, then stopped. Was she referring to the symbolic meaning, or was she talking about the physiological reaction? He decided she wasn't propositioning him.
Adjacent to the case was a carved onyx table; a large lintel really, taken from an Egyptian tomb. There was a hard wooden bench nearby, and Robbins sat down on it with an audible sigh. It was a Friday night and he had had a long week. He would be off tomorrow and Sunday, rare for him, and the evening had a faint holiday feel. He had time.
"The erect phallus was a symbol of power, potency, and kingship. The Egyptians went in for a lot of phallic imagery and symbolism." he said.
Vanessa put her bag down on the onyx table and waited for him to continue.
Feeling a little embarrassed he added, "You've got to remember that they saw the world a lot differently than we see it today. They saw sex as a natural and important part of life, yet also as a magical force. It's hard to explain…"
"Oh I understand all that." Vanessa said calmly, turning her eyes back to the scroll. "But he's ejaculating, isn't he? I've never seen that in their art before."
He felt heat rise into his cheeks. "Yes. He is."
"What does that mean? It must have some symbolic meaning."
This scroll was the object of a lot of laughter and horseplay among a certain sort of visitor to the museum, precisely because of the image oh the ejaculating god. He Knew that Vanessa was not that kind of person, but still he looked at her now to make sure she was serious.
He said: "Certainly it does. The Egyptians were farmers. They knew what seed was and that it had to be planted in the ground. And they knew that semen was seed. It was life. Osiris is not only resurrected, he's giving life to the world. That's why he's shown…that way."
She was serious. He felt himself relax. "It's an interesting story. If you read any of the standard books on Egyptian mythology, they'll tell you the most famous creation myth: that the earth was formed when Re dripped spittle into the void. Now, that always seemed to me as a kid a very weird myth, that your world was formed when god drooled? But see, all those books are based on the works of Budge, who wrote in the teens, and he intentionally bowdlerized the Egyptian myths so he wouldn't offend the Victorian sensibilities of his readers.
"So it wasn't spittle that formed the world. Re masturbated. The world was formed from his seed."
Vanessa held his gaze for a moment more than was necessary, then turned back to the scroll. She felt the beginnings of a familiar tension pass between them, the shadow of mutual sexual awareness. It was a feeling she knew well, something she'd learned to live with, but now it seemed strangely acute. She tried to ignore it.
"What do these hieroglyphics mean?" she asked. "Can you read them?"
He was about to tell her that she really had to go, that the museum was closing and he wanted to go home, but something in the way she stood--her weight on one leg, her hips cocked slightly, the tilt of her head-stopped him. He knew her as a visitor to the museum: he had never really considered her as a woman before: as a sexual woman, that is, and now he paused for a moment as if he were refocusing on her, seeing her in a new light.
He stood up and stood beside her, feeling a new kind of attraction, a tension.
"Where?" he asked.
Vanessa pointed with her nail against the Lucite. "There. Those glyphs running down his mummy case."
He had to move his head closer to hers in order to see. Strangely, she did not make room for him, and he got close enough to smell her perfume, close enough to see her pulse in her throat.
"It says something like, 'Look at me' or 'Behold', I come from the land of the West…that means he was dead, the land of the dead. 'Behold I come from the land of the dead. I come back to the land of the living in heaven'. That means his mummy has eternal life. It says, 'Behold I am the potent one'. Um. it says… 'I am the life giver, I am the potent one…'"
"No," she said. "That's not what it says, is it? You're paraphrasing."
Their eyes met for a moment and he saw the earnestness in her look.
"Yes. I'm paraphrasing." he said. "The real text say that he's the risen phallus, the erect and potent phallus. He rises from the dead as a living man's…phallus rises from his loins. It says all life springs from his seed, that all things are made of his pleasure-his orgasm--that his seed is without number, that it forms the milky way, that the entire universe is born of his seed."
They both straightened up at the same time. He was no longer feeling embarrassed. He was aware of how quiet the museum was. He was aware that they were alone.
"Why are there no woman mentioned?" she asked.
"The earth is the woman. The Nile is the woman. This particular spell concerns the marriage of the Pharaoh to the land of Egypt. He ejaculates into the Nile to ensure the fertility of the fields. It was a ceremony they had. It was called The Marriage of Heaven and Earth. Pharaoh would go to the Nile and in full view of everyone he would ejaculate into the water. They did it every year during the Nile flood."
"How did he do that?"
"Pardon?" he asked.
"How did he manage to ejaculate? Did he masturbate or did someone do it for him?"
He looked at her again. He was terribly conscious of her nearness now. Vanessa was in earnest. She was waiting for his answer, an answer he really didn't know. Much of the ritual and ceremony was not known.
The image of the ejaculating resurrected god from 4200 years ago was right there in front of them, just as the artist had portrayed it, the little spurt of semen shooting in that eager arc from its tip.
Vanessa felt slightly dizzy. It was a vaguely familiar feeling, but she could not remember when she had felt it before. She felt warm, as if she were standing in the sun. Craig's words had the same calm and stirring effect on her that she always felt from hearing the sacred, time-blurred hieroglyphics translated into her language, as if she almost remembered them, almost could recall what they really meant. Some purpose, some grand vision she could not quite digest, but that pressed against her urgently. She felt as though something deep inside her were awakening and stirring, reaching for her understanding, and this time all she had to do was step back out of the way and let it come. Just step back out of the way.
She raised her hand, the hand closest to him, as if she were going to greet someone, but instead of waving she turned to him and brought the back of her hand against his chest. Her eyes were on him, curious, as if the gesture surprised her as much as it did him. .
Her touch was so unexpected and electrifying that he stood there for a moment not moving. Then he took her hand in his and lifted his gaze to her. Her lips were slightly parted and she was looking right into his eyes with that same, unsettling serenity and curiosity. He put his other hand on her shoulder.
He knew what he should so, he knew what she expected, but it was so strange to feel this way in the museum, in the place where he worked, where people came to look.
It did not seem strange to her. When he hesitated she reached up out of the moment and kissed him. The touch of his lips, instead of jarring her back to reality, seemed to increase the strange semi-trance which embraced her. It was like a dream, standing here between two worlds, each so immediate and close at hand. One gesture would do it: one thought would open the door. She just had to step back and let it come.
She was drawn in to his kiss, and he felt himself rise to meet her. Her body was warm, and he could feel her muscles and bone beneath the blouse and the jacket she wore as his arms closed around her. For Vanessa his kiss brought the same feeling of something half remembered, of a knowledge that this had happened before. His lips, the message of his kiss and the feel of his body touching hers was intimately familiar, so familiar she didn't at first recognize it as what she'd been missing. The feel of his body was what she had been trying to remember, and now she couldn't believe she could have forgotten it.
She had been naked beneath the white linen dress as they stood on the stone parapet next to the slowly moving Nile. She felt his cock as it pressed against her belly like a living thing that had sprung from his loins independent of him, and the feeling of his living vitality inflamed her. He was the staff of Re, the Risen Osiris. His arms were hard and strong but his touch was gentle as he bent her back to kiss her throat and trail his lips down over her breasts.