A handful of dust fell from his hand.
“This is a season of metal,” he said.
Tantalus walks into Burger Land. He knocks on Sharon’s door. At her signal, he enters. He says, “I would like to apply for a job here.”
“Do you have fast food experience, Mr. . . .”
“No.” He shakes his head.
Sharon looks around in her desk. She passes him a form. She says, “Fill this out, and we’ll check your references, and then you can come in again.”
Tantalus begins to fill out the form.
“It’s a funny name,” Sharon says. “It’s like that guy, what’s his name—”
“Yeah. The guy who stood in a land of plenty, but had nothing to eat or drink.”
“Yes,” Tantalus says. “That was me.”
Sharon laughs nervously.
“It was everything that Burger Land is not,” Tantalus says. “This is a land where food and water flow freely.”
He passes the form across the desk. He looks apologetic.
“But I don’t have any references,” Tantalus says.
“That was really you? I mean, in Hell?”
“I cooked my son and served him to the gods,” Tantalus says, “so I spent roughly three thousand years starving in the Underworld. Now my sentence is up and I would like to become a productive member of society.”
Sharon’s face has gone curiously blank. There is a silence. Then she stands up. She indicates the door with a nod. “Not in Burger Land,” she says.
So he goes out.
Tantalus applies for work as a secretary.
“Can you take dictation?” asks Mr. Swenson.
“I cannot,” says Tantalus, “but I know the secret of the gods.”
“Right!” says Mr. Swenson. “Right! You’re that guy.”
Mr. Swenson leans in. He winks conspiratorially. “How did you get out?”
“A boy named Martin was leaving,” Tantalus says. “And he looked at me. And he reached out to me. And a handful of dust fell from his hand.”
“Was it important dust?”
“‘This is a season of metal,’ he said.”
Mr. Swenson grins. “You know,” he says, “there are a lot of old myths running around these days. You might not want to pull pranks like this, or someone might think you’re actually the real thing.”
“The real thing?”
“Well, Tantalus is kind of a distinctive name, you know? And it’s got this huge burden of guilt on it.”
“I have a huge burden of guilt,” Tantalus agrees.
“Get lost,” Mr. Swenson grins. He gestures towards the door. “But thanks for bringing a little humor to my day.”
Tantalus wanders out, and it’s the most beautiful city street he’s ever seen, because the cars that zip past don’t pull away when he reaches for them, and the trash bins he rummages in are full of food even when he touches them, and he can drink from the drinking fountains and quench his thirst. And the sidewalk is nearly always white, and not the color of dust; and the asphalt is nearly always black, except for the yellow and white in the middle, and not the color of dust; and the wind has been a bright and happy caress ever since it changed in April.
“I love this,” he says.
He is in one of the richest countries in the world, and he is terribly thin. He is mostly water, and he is very thirsty. There is usually a few days’ growth of beard on his face. His suit smells of Goodwill.
“I love this,” he says. “But starving to death would be a terrible irony.”
So he walks across the bridge, out across the sea of chaos, and to the door of a tower, and he knocks, and he says, “I’d like to apply for a job.”
“You can’t use the name Tantalus,” Mr. Schiff tells him. “No one would ever be able to suspend their disbelief.”
“It’s all right,” Tantalus says. “I’ll use the stage name Saul.”