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Idle Hands

Xanthippe lounged on the fainting couch. Her twin brother, Zephyr cracked five eggs into a small bowl and mixed in goat cheese and chives. Xanthippe shifted in place. Zephyr greased and salted a pan. The olive oil smoked slightly, filling the front room with a savory smell. He poured in the eggs and whipped them into a curled French omelet. He split it in half and served it onto two plates with thick cut, uncured bacon. He placed a single sage leaf on the focus of each half-omelet’s perfect whorl. Xanthippe shifted again and sighed. Zephyr ignored her, admiring his eggs’ perfect Van Gogh surface.

He served the plates on the red marble bar. “Eggs are done, Xan.”

Xanthippe sighed again and walked over to the glass doors overlooking the patio. She stared between the stately ionic columns and out onto the manicured Great Park. She examined the people paddle-boating on the public pond below the manor. Earlier that summer she had elected to remove the wooden-slat fence that separated Zephyr’s magnificent garden from the public section of the park. The majority of the time they found the public agreeable and friendly. The manor stood on a hill, separated from the art museum by a copse of maple trees. Zephyr had put up small wooden signs indicating the species and cultivar of each of his plants. He liked to teach botany to any children that wandered onto their property. It was early spring, and his Sakura was in heavy bloom. The petals were just starting to fall. A young couple wearing sweatshirts from the University were cuddling in its shade.

“I love you.”

She said it for the first time.

“I love you too.”

He meant it for the first time.

Xanthippe’s eyes wandered up the hill to the art museum. A life-size aluminum tree stood in the center of its pavilion.

“That tree is hideous isn’t it?”

“Really? I think it’s your best work.”

He handed her the plate with her half of the omelet. He kissed her forehead. They went out onto the patio to eat their brunch in the morning sun and watch the young couple grope each other from afar.

The Greek Revival mansion has stood for 150 years; it was built by the twins’ great-great grandfather, Hermes. During the first golden age of Shaw’s Hill, Hermes became one of the richest men in America by shipping sugar and cotton from the south up to Chicago, and machines from Chicago and Detroit south into Louisiana. Hermes had a pair of twin daughters, Camilla and Calipha. Camilla was an author and Calipha was a mathematician. During the second world war, Camilla reported on stories of triumph and heroism from the front for the radio back home. After the war she started a short-lived newscasting company which collapsed due to her strict rules against editorial content. Calipha fought the war the only way she knew how, by designing a complex system of electronics to calculate the trajectory of a missile. Three years ago Zephyr found a leather-bound journal in which Calipha confesses her Nazi sympathy. He has yet to reveal this to the rest of the family, and keeps the journal locked in his floor safe. Once the Germans were defeated, Calipha was transferred to Los Alamos where she built a supercomputer to calculate the exploding force of the very first nuclear bomb. While there she met General William Hoopsch, a lesser general in charge of home front activities.

While Hoopsch was inspecting the troops, his eyes lingered on Calipha, bent over and installing a vacuum triode. Calipha turned around and blushed. Her face was covered in grease and she had recently lost a good chunk of her hair in a resistor fire. She began to yell at him. She yelled for 92 seconds before she noticed the bars on his chest. Hoopsch immediately asked her for a date.

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated and the war was won, Hoopsch and Calipha married. It was roughly a year before their honeymoon wore off and Hoopsch started to have nightmares about the souls forsaken by the atomic bombings. It began to wear on their relationship. On a Sunday morning, Calipha made an omelet for William and brought it to him. He looked into the french curl with a little sage leaf sitting on top and saw the face of a Japanese man, screaming and twisted in pain. He took the fork in his right hand and drove it into his left eye. Calipha stood there in shock, unable to do anything about the love of her life dying before her very eyes. He bled out onto the red marble bar.

Shortly after William’s funeral, Calipha set out for Santa Fe alone. She told no one where she was going. She changed her mind somewhere in Arizona and pulled over by the lip of Snake River Canyon. She stood at an overlook and shot herself with his old service pistol.

Camilla mourned her sister’s passing by moving back into the manor. She had a folly ruin built along the driveway dedicated to Calipha. Every year, on the anniversary of her death, the sun casts a ray through the ruin’s keystone illuminating a portrait of Calipha and William. In 2019, a group of Japanese studies students from the university scratched William’s left eye out. Xanthippe and Zephyr’s aunt Althea chose to lacquer over the damage, and commissioned a new plaque which told the story of how they lived, how they killed, and how they died.

Camilla never married. In July of 1960 she became pregnant with twins. It was a national discussion as to the identity of the father. Her Wikipedia entry says “probably Walter Cronkite,” but Hermes speculated it was Ted Kennedy. The exact providence of the boys non-withstanding, the three of them occupied that sparkling manor on the hill for twenty years. The boys both attended the University for the class of 1985. Oranos studied chemistry, and Endymion studied music. While they were in school, Hermes died of cardiac arrest. He never had a proper burial; he died while sailing alone in the gulf of Mexico. Camilla held a faux burial where she smashed a bust of Hermes and mixed the dust into the foundation for a new wing of the house. Oranos was employed by some defense contractor. One of those companies with a name so intentionally bland that you couldn’t remember it if you wanted to. Endymion retreated to the safety of the manor, where he hid in the new wing, and wrote symphonies intended only for himself.

Over the next ten years Endymion dated ten men. All for six months, April to September, all of them were within 6”4’ and 6”6’ and less than a year younger than him. All were fit, friendly, waxed, and Chinese. In the fifth month of their relationship the boyfriend would ask to hear Endymion’s music. To his he would respond by crying.

On April 3rd 1995, Endymion met Jackie Hu. On August 20th, Jackie asked to hear Endymion’s latest sonata.

Endymion wept.

“I want to hear it because I want to know you better.”

Endymion brushed the tears away and played for Jackie.

Jackie wept.

On January 1st 1996, Endymion’s Symphony No. 3, Fur Jackie opened to a small crowd at the Shaw’s Hill Amphitheater. Oranos walked out of the theater and sat on the curb. He thought about how he had spent his life. He had 101 patents to his name, he had invented fertilizers, water filters, nutritional supplements, semiconductors, meta-materials, the list goes on. That morning he was granted a patent for a napalm additive. He quit his job the next day. The symphony played its second night to a full house.

Oranos lounged around the manor with Endymion and Jackie for 4 months. On May 4th 1996 Camilla disappeared. She checked herself out of her retirement village and left a note instructing the twins to assume her dead. The note also contained a 76 line poem, which I will not reproduce in full here. It ended with the lines:

The Plum Grew, and I coveted it

The Plum Fell, and I buried it

The boys had the poem inscribed on a slab of red marble, and erected it in the yard. On her fifteenth birthday Xanthippe fell while trying to climb it. She made it to the second stanza. Her left wrist was smashed against the ‘F’ in the last line. Xanthippe eventually healed, but there’s still a small crack in the poem.

Oranos took a job for a green-technology firm in New York shortly after. While meeting with financiers for the firm he met Sophia Oblonga, a power-lawyer. He went on his first date in five years with her. They married in 1998. Jackie officiated their wedding. In December of 1999 they had twins. Althea and Orpheus. Oranos was finally happy with his life. Sophia was happy with him.

In February of 2000 they went on a second honeymoon, and left Althea and Orpheus with Jackie and Endymion. They bought a cabin on the north shore of Hudson Bay. Oranos chopped firewood from the nearby woods and Sophia cooked a hearty stew. They made love. Oranos commented that it was like the first time. Sophia agreed. They slept with frequent breaks to enjoy each other’s company.

At 4:54 AM, a man by the name of John VanRitter silently broke into the cabin. He shot Sophia twice in the chest and once in the forehead. Oranos awoke to the horror scene. He wailed. VanRitter shot him in the left shoulder. Oranos grabbed the lamp and smashed it over VanRitter’s head. Even after VanRitter’s head was reduced to a bloody pulp, Oranos continued until he passed out from blood loss. The trio was found two days later after Jackie got worried and sent the land manager to check on them.

Endymion dedicated every Symphony after that to their memory. The police investigation eventually found that VanRitter was sent by one of Sophia’s old opponents, a man called “Kory Waterclaus.” In 1990, Kory was accused of raping three interns from a nearby high school. Sophia represented the victims and Kory was ordered to pay out 80% of his net worth, and was removed from the board of his company. He was never convicted in criminal court, and lived the rest of his life under the radar in a small apartment in the Chicago neighborhood of Damon.

In the autumn of 2024, two people, a man and a woman, hacked Mr. Waterclaus’s fingerprint lock and snuck into his bedroom. They shot him twice in the chest, once in the forehead, and once in his left shoulder.

After the couple’s funeral, Endymion had a folly ruin built in the manor’s front yard. It was styled as a pre-hellenic temple to the sky. In the center, a blue spruce grew up through the hole in the roof. In the summer of 2030 the spruce outgrew its space, and a root disrupted the foundation of the folly. It collapsed, killing the tree.

Jackie and Endymion raised the twins as if they were their own. Jackie had always wanted kids, and Endymion truly loved Jackie. Althea and Orpheus were inseparable. Jackie taught them how to cook, and how to appreciate art. Endymion taught them that they can do anything they set their minds to. When they were in high school, a boy, Thomas Kassinicz, asked Althea on a date, and she rejected him. He quickly got back on the horse though, and a week later asked out a different girl, Ally Chu. She rejected him, saying that she had a crush on Orpheus. His response was to tell her that the twins’ relationship was incestuous in nature.

“They fuck each other, you know.”

“What, no. That’s crazy, Tommy.”

“I’m serious, think about it, they spend so much time together, they hold hands when they’re nervous. Who else acts like that?”

“Whatever, they’re just close.”

“Have you ever even heard that either of them has a crush on somebody else?”

“Well, no, but that’s because they’re private.”

“Right, because they have something to hide.”

Ally didn’t believe Thomas, but the girl sitting behind them did. The rumor spread like wildfire, and Endymion was called into the office. The principal sided with the rumormongers. You could hear Endymion’s swearing from down the hall. It wasn’t so much the claim that the twins were incestuous which bothered him. What really bothered him was the principal’s accusation that it was because they grew up in a “house of depravity”. He stormed out and spent the rest of the day calling private schools for a place to transfer the twins.

That experience only drove them closer together.

The next day, Jackie sat the twins down and gave them a speech about true depravity. About how when people abuse people, all that is created is suffering and pain. When people lash out in anger, or disgust instead of seeking understanding or truth, they pull the universe deeper into darkness.

That principal was ousted in July of 2015. By sheer coincidence this was the same day that Jackie proposed to Endymion. They married on August 23rd, Orpheus was the ring bearer and Althea was the flower girl. It was a Saturday morning, when Jackie proposed. Althea was up in her room, chatting with other hackers about network access protocols. Orpheus was making breakfast. He served up four 3-egg omelets, and examined each one’s swirled surface. He placed a sage leaf at the focus of each swirl. They all sat in the front room and ate their eggs.

Jackie looked around the room and saw how perfect his life had become.

In 2018, the twins started school at the University. Althea studied computer science and computer engineering, Orpheus studied physics and philosophy. After they started school, Jackie and Endymion moved to Brussels. Jackie was asked to move by his boss, and the Brussels Philharmonic offered Endymion a residency. They left the manor in the care of the twins.

After school, the Twins chose to stay together in the manor. Althea got a masters in network engineering and Orpheus got a job working for an engineering consulting firm. Althea never got a real job after that. She made her money as a freelance contractor and became renowned in the community for her open source software. In a lot of ways they supported one another.

In late 2022, Orpheus met Alexandria Narrosa. She quickly became a fixture at the manor. To be blunt, Alex was a criminal. Honestly, so was Althea, and Orpheus was clearly comfortable with that situation. Alex was an art broker who was making extra money by hiring thieves to steal art from her competitors and then would launder the money through a public art museum. It was a clever system. At some point Alex and Althea started working together. Art museums didn’t really present a challenge for her, but Alex paid well. Althea did, however, discover useful information while she was snooping around in these places’ data-banks. Information like this is usually valued by someone. The public valued politicians’ donation records, companies valued their competitors’ activity, she valued simpler things, like Kory Waterclaus’s home address.

Their life got chaotic after that. There’s a funny thing that happens to people like this. It’s like a Robin Hood complex. They think of themselves as the hero of their story, most criminals do I think. Alex snapped out of it in the summer of 2025. She had made a lot of money on her own, although they weren’t married, she had access to Orpheus’s fortune. Looking back, she realized that she made enough money as an art broker alone. Why did she spend so much of her life committing crimes? Her conscious told her that her victims deserved it. But that wasn’t really true was it? So did she do it just for the thrill? Why did Orpheus, this man who was once a mild-mannered engineer join her? Maybe this sudden realization was triggered by the three police cars that pulled up outside the manor. Maybe it was brought on by the positive pregnancy test she was holding in her right hand. Orpheus was making omelets in the kitchen when the police breached the door.

Alex gave birth to twins while in the Shaw’s Hill Minimum Security Penitentiary. White collar criminals weren’t punished very harshly at the time, the thing that really got to her was being away from Orpheus for so long. He was held in the men’s section of the same prison. The two had discussed names as soon as they knew they had twins. The girl would be named Xanthippe and the boy Zephyr. They would be raised by their aunt Althea.

Jackie and Endymion didn’t live to hear this news. Jackie’s lab exploded in a simple accident. A lab assistant stood up too fast in a metal wheeled chair. The chair crossed over the danger-line of a powerful electromagnet. The chair slammed into the magnet at 30 m/s. Jackie was upstairs, getting his office in order before going out to lunch with Endymion. His office was directly above the magnet. Endymion walked through the door, at this point in his life he had aged significantly. Jackie saw his face illuminated by the midday sun through the blinds.

“I love you.” He said.

Endymion smiled.

“I love you too!”

Then the fireball blasted through the floor.

Althea felt guilty. In one afternoon her entire family was taken away from her. Yet eight months later she was given a new family. She knew she had to put up a memorial to her adopted fathers, but couldn’t think of anything as clever as the temple to Oranos, as personal as Camilla’s poetry-stone, or as beautiful as Calipha’s memorial. Once the next set of twins arrived at the house, she knew. She donated a large section of the estate to build a circular theater, the Endymion-Hu memorial orchestrum. She made up the word ‘orchestrum’ but figured nobody would notice.

Althea’s guilt kept Xan and Zeph in good care. They were able to see their parents fairly often, but they were given life sentences for the murder of Kory Waterclaus. There was always the feeling in the back of their minds that Orpheus and Alexandria would never really be their family. Althea got a real job as a white-hat hacker, she broke into computer systems in order to show how they were weak, then was paid to fix those weaknesses. She loved this job, and would often look back at her criminal history and notice that she was happier now than she was then, and she made more money. What’s more is she loved her niece and nephew, hell, her son and daughter.

Xanthippe and Zephyr went to a fancy private school in Shaw’s Hill. When they were in high school, Xan was admitted to a prestigious arts-focused school and Zeph was admitted to a prestigious academy of science. They were in many ways child prodigies. Xan had her first suite of sculptures showed at the Shaw’s Hill Art Museum, the one you can see from the manor’s back porch. Zeph was granted a research assistantship at the university botany lab. Zeph would never miss a showing, and Xan wouldn’t dare to miss a symposium. They both decided to go to the University together. Xan was admitted to the Art School and Zeph to the College. In the summer after their Sophomore year, Althea dropped dead. It was an undiagnosed heart condition. She was making herself an omelet. Xan, Zeph, and their respective significant others were watching old movies in his dorm room when they were called by the hospital.

Those relationships didn’t last very long. Only the strongest ones can survive that kind of tragedy.

It was while the twins were sitting Shiva for their aunt that Zephyr found Calipha’s diary. They aren’t Jewish, it just felt like the right thing to do. He read the diary for her secrets, and locked it away in his safe. As of the summer of 2050, he hasn’t told Xan any of them, but then again, she’s never asked. Xanthippe spent the next two years working on her honors project, a grand aluminum tree dedicated to Althea. She donated it to the art museum after it was graded.

Xanthippe and Zephyr lived in the manor together until their deaths. But that hasn’t happened yet; it would be unfair for me to tell you any more.


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