The Appeal of Sisyphus

by Alice Walsh

Highly Commended in the 2005 TWO! Short Story Competition


I heard this from an old fellow down the pub, and the longer I ponder on his story the more I have to agree that events do seem to bear him out. He intercepted me on my quest to the bar, introducing himself as Robert O’Hanlon, and hoping I wouldn’t take offence at his unaccustomed forwardness, taking a chance of sharing a few words with an educated man such as myself. He didn’t seem your normal sort of lunatic apart from his insistence on conversation, to which I acquiesced in return for a double gin and tonic. He was of wiry build and togged out in a well-pressed grey suit and tie. I gathered he’d recently retired from an obscure legal firm in the environs of Glasgow and wanted to share the high spot of his career. He promised that however dull I might find his tale, it would not, definitely not, be a waste of my time. As it was a quietish evening down at the Grouse and Spittle, and having some experience of the workings of the law myself, I spared him half an hour. This is what he told me.

"Do you remember bold Sisyphus, scion of Greek royalty, and pure evil, through and through? About five thousand years ago his case first came up. You’ll not remember all the details, unless you are abnormally fond of the classics. Well, he amused himself by robbing and murdering travellers at first. Then he committed the big one. Do you recall him at all?"

I had to confess my memory unreliable on that count.

"Well, he graduated from the traveller murdering to chaining up the god of Death, Hades as he was known, which had the effect of preventing the dear departed from reaching the underworld. You can imagine the kerfuffle what with cartloads of souls backed up with nowhere to go, from the seventh circle of hell to cloud nine, or wherever it was they used to head for in those days. Mebbe you'll mind he was sentenced to hard labour for all eternity."

The affair rang a distant bell with me now.

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