The Mercury Vapors
“Look at that” I said, pointing to the silver mist in the sky that made a translucent stripe, completely encompassing the seldom-viewed, small, unbearably hot planet. “That is the quicksilver tunnel of Mercury, is it not?”
Mother dropped the wrapper from her double-double in order to take a final swig of Gimlet from the thermos because she’s very disciplined about always keeping one hand on the steering wheel. Wiping her lips with the back of her hand she handed me the thermos and gave the sky a quick, measured glance.
“One, it belongs to Hermes, and two, it’s a bridge,” Mother said. She accelerated suddenly and ran the red light, taking a sharp left onto Sunset. After a block of gaining speed she slid into a right on Vine, so we were heading in the general direction of where the phenomena appeared to make contact with our world.
“The Quicksilver Bridge of Hermes.”
Now she shook her head, and I watched her think through potential routes. She looked at the gas gauge, where an unforgiving needle rested solidly on the orange E, and shrugged. I looked at the sky, noting it was nearly an hour till dawn.
“Hermes’s bridge goes to Mercury,” I said, remembering the old story. I began to nod. “You have my full attention, Mother.”
“That won’t last long,” she muttered, seemingly as an afterthought to explain her reckless speed, although it wasn’t clear what she was referring to. “It’s been years,” she added softly. I wasn’t sure she’d meant to speak those words aloud.
I recalled that the quicksilver bridge is highly dependent on atmospheric conditions. Even when Mercury is clearly visible, as it was this morning, there’s no guarantee the bridge will materialize. The streets were only lightly trafficked at this hour, so there were few obstacles to driving fast as long as you paid no heed to traffic signals. I leaned back in my seat, enjoying the immediacy of the cool breeze, and was glad we’d taken the time to put the canvas top down.
Mother frowned in concentration. Double tapping the horn, she threw the big old Plymouth convertible around a double-parked delivery van while she flew up the next two blocks along Fountain. I shook my head, because everyone knows… you never take Fountain. I was about to say so when I saw her remember and quickly squeal into another right onto Gower.
“Just stay on this till we get to Melrose,” I suggested. “Listen, you only drive like this when you’re going to a hook-up or we’re late for the theater. The Pantages is dark at this time of the morning.”
“Shall I just drop you off here, then?” asked Mother curtly, drifting the car expertly through the yellow light and into the next left turn. I was pushed up against the car door by the g-force and started laughing. She looked at me, exasperated.
“Maybe,” I said, trying to sound thoughtful. The big engine purred as she sped up the street, ignoring both traffic lights and daring other motorists that were attempting to go through the intersections to hit us. Horns were honking, cars were swerving, and fists were waving. “You know, I’d probably live longer.” She laughed at that, and course-corrected so that we were nearly flying on our way up Western, and from there we roared along Los Feliz.
I’m always happy to visit the park, and the observatory is a favorite haunt, so I was pleased about the destination as she snapped the gate to flinders with an airy gesture and went barreling through the opening. We shot up the winding road and when she hit the brakes and went sliding the next thirty feet, I could see the ghostly outline of the ethereal bridge against the lightening sky before us. Mother looked around, nostrils flaring, and her gaze fell upon a man standing quietly at the edge of a low stone wall, looking out over the lights of the city.
He was not overly tall, but tall enough, and you could see the definition in his muscled torso through his snug sleeveless shirt. He was handsome, but not in the Hollywood surgically altered or obnoxious way. His face sported a wry, breathtaking smile and the scar on his cheek was as distinctive as his winged sandals. My mother smiled widely in return and leapt out of the car without turning off the engine or opening the door, moving towards him with a predator’s casual speed. I opened my own door and stepped out. Hermes moved towards my mother and reached out as if to hug her… but he eluded her embrace with a bewildering blur of motion and hopped right over the door into the driver’s seat.
“Rookie mistake,” called the King of Thieves and Travelers, and he threw a laugh over his shoulder as he gunned the big car across the parking lot. Mother and I watched as a fine twisting rooster tail of grey dust rose behind him, and he and the car were suddenly gone.
“So much for date night,” I observed. Mother proved she could laugh and frown at the same time.
“I didn’t come here for him. Seriously, I mean it,” she said with a shake of her head at my raised eyebrow, and she pointed at the quicksilver bridge, floating just above the pavement. “Obviously he would have been tasty icing on the cake, but look- there’s the prize. Shall we go?” She gave a little shimmy of excitement as she spoke.
“The car will run out of gas by the time he gets to the bottom of the hill. He’ll be alone and helpless, and he’ll have to fly back on those winged sandals.” She swirled her fingers now, and sparkling green and orange flames danced across their tips. “By then we’ll hold the bridge.”
She took a running leap into the cloudy substance and effortlessly ascended to a height of twenty feet or so. I called up some power and prepared to make my own leap, smiling as my mother ascended another ten feet into the sky. There was laughter in her voice.
“Rookie mistake, indeed.”