Short Story: Athena


Copyright © Courtney Josephson

Ms. Cooper prattled on and on about how wonderful her Cindylee’s new campus was, and how disappointed she was that Cecily had never gone to university herself. Cecily grunted as a reply to all of the chatter, never offering an actual sentence, until her mother told her she looked and sounded like a barn animal.

She asked her mother if she wanted a cab to pick her up at the next corner.

They continued the ride in silence.


Upon reaching the mall, Ms. Cooper renewed her gossip as if the disagreement had never happened, and half heartedly perused the wares while actually looking over her daughter with a shrewd eye. She peered at her carefully ease between the aisles, and took care that she didn’t knock any fragile items off the shelves.


“You know, your sister is going to school to be a nutritionist and personal trainer; perhaps she could help you lose some of this weight you’ve amassed?”

“Mom, I don’t need a nutritionist, I need a psychiatrist.” Her mother looked around to see who heard her outburst and laughed loudly and falsely. Turning her attention back to Cecily, her eyes widened at her attire.

“You’re still wearing his pro rugby shirt. That thing’s a relic, and god knows the last time it was washed properly. And with your hair all shorn off haphazardly and dyed that garish color… perhaps you do need therapy.”  Ms. Cooper joked, but neither of them laughed.


Cecily had drifted over to a rack featuring a tank top with a pretty embroidered design. She ran her hands over it, and finding some approval there, she placed the item in the basket. Her mother swooped upon the clothing, immediately checking the size tag.

“Oh,” she muttered, stretching the fabric out to its limit. “Is this the size you are now?”

“The shirt seems to run large, so I selected a smaller size.” Cecily ground out, balling her hands in a fist.

“Hm. Yes, but even so,” said Ms. Cooper as she held up the shirt and stretched it every which way. Finally she put it back in the cart, but added dubiously, “Well, if that’s the size you say you are.”

Swearing under her breath, Cecily grabbed the shirt and turned to put it back on the rack.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” Ms. Cooper cooed at her.

“I don’t care for it anymore.”

“Oh, well it’s for the best; it’s not your color, dear.”

Cecily nodded and was just about to set the shirt back on the rack, but turned as she heard her mother’s voice hitch like she was going to cry.


“What happened, Cecily, you always were…athletically inclined.” Her mother allowed, wistfully staring at the medium and small racks a few feet over, and then pointedly looking at her arms, stomach, and legs..

What happened indeed, Mother? She thought to herself.

When Cecily was younger, she used to be the star Fly Half on her ladies’ rugby team, and her father never missed a game. He was always the most boisterous parent there, hooting and hollering, screaming encouragement and calling her “’Thena!”. He always called her by her middle name when her mother wasn’t around.


“A-always wanted to…name you Athena,” he said one day after a particularly physical game, dabbing at her split lip. He had an old head injury from rugby and an unfortunate car accident that left him with a tick and fighting to remember exactly what words he wanted to use, among other side effects. He winced as he dabbed her lip, and she knew it was not because it hurt to look at, but because her mother would be furious. What if she ended up with a scar? “B-b-but, your mother thought it sounded like a, like a, like a, shoe brand,” her father continued, his head pulling to the left like he was nodding. “Not a name. I managed to…squeak the name in though. D-do you mind me calling you that? Athena?”

Cecily thought of the other children from her school at the game, making fun of her dad’s antics, and the way they would scream “THEEE-NAHHH” in her face at school..

“I love it, dad.” She said, smiling, splitting her lip a little further.

“Muh-my, muh-my little warrior,” he beamed, dabbing again ever so gently at her lip with a shaking hand.

Later that night, her mother had seen her bruises and busted lip, and her parents fought well into the night. She couldn’t hear what her father said, but her mother was clear as a bell. Why couldn’t Cecily do “normal” sports like her sister, Cindylee did? She looks like we beat her, no man is ever going to want her if she is muscular and riddled with scars! What if all that rolling around with women turned her gay?

Her sister had held her all night, weeping, whispering “I’m sorry”. Cecily didn’t hate her sister; her sister was beautiful, a track star, and all around amazing student academically. Cecily was nothing but proud of her sister. Her only regret was not being able to go to any of her meets because their sports were in the same season.


Shaking her head of unpleasant memories, she firmly put the tank top back on the rack, her face pale and drawn.

“I’ll wait for you in the car.” She said quietly, and turned to walk away.

She sucked in a breath as her mother gripped her upper arm, no longer corded in muscle, but soft and doughy.

“Don’t you walk away from me,” her mother snarled, her overly done up face creasing in the harsh department store light. In a flash, her expression cleared, and she smoothed Cecily’s shirt. “You’re not still upset about the divorce, are you?”

“No.” Cecily lied. Her mom took her hands in her own and tried to look into her eyes, but Cecily narrowly avoided them by staring intently at the floor tiles.


“Sweetheart, I loved your father too; you’re not the only one who’s grieving, but I think this has gone on long enough. He was sick, sweetie—”

Cecily met her mother’s eyes then, and snatched her hands back, holding them over her chest.

“He wasn’t sick, he was depressed.” She said, horrified. She continued to interrupt her mother every time she tried to interject.

“Sweetheart, I know you think that but—”

“He was sad that he couldn’t play rugby anymore, he was sad that he couldn’t speak or think or function the way he used to before the accident; he was sad when his children were taken away from him,” Her mother’s eyes narrowed into icy slits.

“This isn’t the time or the place for this.” She hissed, glancing around at the customers nearby who had stopped to listen, but Cecily continued her tirade.

“And he was confused and hurt when his lawyer said he had been duped: that he had no money, no children, no house, and no wife. He couldn’t understand why.”

“Who has been feeding you these, lies, Cecily!” Her mother turned to see the spectators, but Cecily moved to face her, and her gaze bore into her mother’s so there was nowhere else to look.

“When after months without seeing him, I defied the restraining order you filed against him. You told people he hurt us, and used my bruises from rugby as your proof. When I found my father’s lifeless body swinging from a rope in a barn on grandma’s property, I knew I hated you then, you selfish bitch.” She wiped her eyes on her sleeves, and shoved past her, knocking hangers of extra large clothes onto the floor.

“Cecily,” her mother called after her, not quite believing what had just happened.

“Cecily!” she called again, more frantic at the sight of her eldest leaving.


She stopped just shy of the sliding doors, and turned to gesture rudely at her.

“It’s Athena.”

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