Guess Who’s Coming to Götterdämmerung

By Terry Faust

Harold Barnard’s bowl of breakfast cereal trembled. It trembled because Harold trembled. Harold trembled because the refrigerator shelf on which there should have been a gallon of milk was empty. Indeed, most of the refrigerator was empty except for the week-old boxed chow mein that sat in the crisper drawer. Its sour odor wafted up.
​“No milk,” he muttered through clenched teeth. “Yesterday this thing was full of food.” He gave the elastic band of his twisted sky-blue pajamas an angry tug to straighten them. He’d just got up and everything was crooked.
Harold’s kitchen was large, with a high ceiling and a nook containing a blocky oak table. His wife, Barbara, sat at the table reading the morning news, replete in a navy blue business outfit. The kitchen was designed to look like part of an old farmhouse with a butcher-block counter, unused copper utensils hung from the walls, a tall sheaf of grain sprouting from an antique milk can and a stove and microwave framed in reclaimed bricks. It was nowhere near a farm, though the development land on which it set had once upon a time produced corn and soybeans. Morning sunlight poured in through the kitchen’s large windows.
“What?” Barbara inquired from behind her paper. She shifted on her straight-backed oak chair. She was pleasantly plump, with Botticelli curves.
“There was a full gallon here last night,” Harold complained.
​“I heard Benny and Thor come in late last night.” Barbara said, as if that should explain everything.
​“At goll-darned three thirty in the morning!” Harold cried.
​“Language dear! They must’ve had a snack. Make some toast for yourself.” Barbara turned to a new section of her paper.
​All that remained in the bread bag were two heels. Even the bread had been ransacked. He slammed the leftover bits into the toaster and pegged the empty bag at the pile of pizza boxes stacked atop the wastebasket. “All they do is eat! Especially that Thor.”
​“He’s a god, Harold. What do you expect?”
​“I expect him to help out a bit. Do some dishes once in a while. Take out the trash.” Harold glanced at the door to the basement and lowered his voice. “Maybe mop up some of the blood he tracks in. My gosh, have you seen the way he leaves the bathroom? If I have to unplug the toilet one more time…I’m telling you! The hair in the shower grate is bad enough but last week I found a human ear! Golldangit!”
​Barbara lowered her paper and aimed a warning look at Harold.
​Her husband threw up his hands. “All right, I know!” he said, then mimicked Barbara’s singsong lecture style. “I’ll talk him.” He shook his head in despair. “But he’s always carrying that big hammer. It’s just not real conducive to a sit-down, heart-to-heart house-keeping talk.”
​The sound of size-thirteen basketball shoes clomped up the basement steps and filled the kitchen. “Hey, mom, dad. What’s for breakfast?” Benny, their eighteen-year-old son said as he appeared in the doorway. His food-stained bathrobe did not hide his pipe-cleaner arms and legs, or his friz of unruly red hair. Sleep still blurred his face, but close-set blue eyes hungrily swept the kitchen and settled on the toaster as it popped. Before Harold could open his mouth, the boy snatched up the toast and crammed one piece in his mouth while he buttered the other.
Barbara checked her wristwatch, folded her paper and slipped it into her briefcase. “Well, I’ll just fill up my thermos and be off to work.” She stood and patted wrinkles out of her navy business suit. “Your father will make you something.” She frowned as she looked down at herself. Her skirt stretched over ample thighs. She’d caught Thor watching her and though she was flattered, she wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.
​“There’s nothing left to make!” Harold cried.
​“What!” Barbara said abruptly.
​“Food. There’s no food to make,” Harold said.
“Oh, well, I’m sure you’ll manage.” She sighed and gave her straight brunette hair, usually pulled back into a serious bun, a toss. Apparently, Thor was sleeping late this morning and no amount of lingering would bring him up the stairs.
Benny flopped down in Barbara’s empty seat. “Mom. Dad?” he mumbled through a mouthful of toast, “I want to talk to you about something.”
“Sure baby. As soon as I come back from work.”
“It’s about Thor.” Benny’s troubled tone stopped Barbara cold.
​“What about Thor?” Barb and Harold asked together.
A month ago Benny had invited Thor to crash in their basement without asking Barbara or Harold’s permission. The god chose the couch in Harold’s downstairs study. The first morning after, Thor stumped up to breakfast, poured the entire box of cereal into a mixing bowl and began shoveling it into his beard. Between Pop-Tarts Benny casually introduced their new guest. That was a month ago.
​“You’ve finally come to your senses and see that muscle-bound sponger for what he is?” Harold said in a hushed, hopeful voice. His gaze shifted nervously to the basement door.
​“Well…” Benny said, hesitating.
​“You can tell us dear,” Barbara encouraged.
​“Well,” Benny began, “Thor asked to use my cell phone and, well.” Benny twisted his mouth up to one side. “He ran up a kinda big bill.”
​“What! Why the heck did you lend him your….”
Barbara waved a hand to silence Harold. “What kind of big bill, honey?”
​“Well, it’s about $5,600. He calls Asgard a lot. I think it’s in Sweden or something.”
​Harold staggered against the kitchen counter. He ran his fingers through his hair.
​“He didn’t know about the charges.” Benny said defensively and shrugged. “Honest. He’s not used to long distance fees or using phones. He’s real sorry.”
​“So what’s he going to do about it?” Harold asked, his voice string-tight.
​Benny looked annoyed and turned up one hand. “Well, dad. He said he’s sorry.”
​A shudder ran the length of Harold’s body and his mouth worked but nothing came out.
​A window-rattling yawn came up the stairway followed by a fart of mythical proportion. They all turned to the doorway, but Thor didn’t appear. A rumbling snore grew and settled like an idling Peterbilt.
​“I can’t deal with this right now,” Barbara said. “I have to go to work.”
​“Uh, mom?” Benny said and sank a bit in his chair as he pushed crumbs around on the kitchen table. “About going to work. Remember you said I could borrow your car last night?”
​“Yes?” Barbara said slowly. Harold shambled to his wife’s side, not sure if he could take more news, especially if it was connected to Thor.
​“You didn’t let Thor drive it, did you?” Harold said.
​“Dad, do you think I’m crazy? He doesn’t have a license!”
​“What about the car?” Barbara asked carefully.
​“Uh. Well, it wasn’t our fault,” Benny exclaimed.
​“Our fault?” Barbara repeated with a sinking voice.
​“They’ve got these impossible-to-see little no-parking signs downtown. When we got back to the car there was a clamp thing on the wheel. I mean, if there was a no-parking sign anywhere around, neither of us could see it. And Thor’s a god with like X-ray vision, right? It wasn’t our fault.”
“Great! The car got towed?” Harold said and sighed, imagining the cumulative $300 it would take to get it back from the impound lot.
“Towed?” Benny asked quizzically. “Oh, yeah, eventually.”
“Eventually!” Harold clapped a hand to his forehead and collapsed onto a kitchen chair.
“Thor was just trying to help,” Benny explained. “mjollnir,  you know, his hammer, was right there and we just wanted to get home. You told us to be back before midnight.”
“Sweet baby Jeebus, what did he do!” Harold cried.
“Well, he got the clamp off,” Benny explained. “But the wheel kinda came with it.”
Harold shot up from his chair.
“And maybe a little bit of the fender,” Benny added, as if his complete honesty would somehow cancel the damage.
Harold’s hands balled into fists as he grabbed and released thin air. Last week Thor had tried to help him fix the riding lawn mower with Mjollnir and Harold was still finding pieces scattered over the carport. “This has to stop!” But his wild eyes and clenching hands found no tangible brake handle. “He has to leave.”
“Dad! None of this is his fault! He just wants to help. And he’s real sorry.”
“Any more of his help and we’ll be homeless!” Harold spat.
“Benny, I think your father is right.”
Harold stopped in mid-fume. The last time his wife had agreed with him they spawned Benny. Harold cocked his head. “Yes,” he cautiously said. “I am right. He should leave tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Benny whined. “That’s Thursday! That’s so cruel!”
Harold paced the kitchen, encouraged by Barbara’s agreement. He turned to face Barbara and Benny. “He leaves!”
Having finally uttered what he’d wanted to say for the past four weeks, Harold pressed his creamy fists into his soft hips, straightened his pajama top to match his bottoms and tried to strike a commanding stance. “Thor goes tomorrow!”
Barbara and Benny’s amazed looks locked on Harold for a moment, surprised at his bold decision. It was one of the rare moments in Harold’s life where he felt confident and in charge. Then their awed expressions drifted a bit up to gaze slightly over his head. Their eyes widened in a kind of unspoken fear.
An eternity lay in the moment it took Harold to notice their shift, listen for and miss Thor’s snoring, and understand what the combination meant.
“He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?”
Benny and Barbara nodded.
Filling the doorway, helmet gleaming, hammer clasped in his iron-gloved right hand, his thumb tucked in Megingjard, his power belt, Thor placidly studied the back of Harold’s head. His beard was a tangle and his furs were matted with spots of blood. His eyes blazed.
“Morning, Thor,” Harold giggled. “How about a couple dozen blueberry pancakes with chocolate sprinkles? You know, just the way you like them.”
Thor said nothing and shifted his gaze to Barbara and Benny. Benny gave him a tiny wave. “Whaddup, bro?”
Thor tapped the top of his hammer on the floor, as if it helped him to digest the situation. Dishes rattled in the cupboards and on the counter the pepper grinder tipped over.
Taking a deep breath and summoning a strength he didn’t have, Harold turned to face the Norse god. He cleared his throat and said, “We were just talking about you.”
“I heard,” Thor rumbled.
Harold’s knees wobbled and his insides threatened to turn to Jell-O. But he stood the peppershaker back up. “Okay. Well, ah, we, ah, need to talk. I mean, there’s things about your staying here we need to, ah, straighten out.”
“You want me to leave!” Thor growled. Past the utter menace, and down-the street of potential bone-crushing-violence, there was surprise and even a little hurt in the god’s voice. “I’m no longer welcome?”
​Harold lost control of his mouth and began making burbling noises.
​“Thor?” Barbara quavered and opened her hands to explain. “Honey, we love having you here. You’ve been welcome and your dinner table stories about smashing the brains out of giants are, well, fascinating….”
Thor held up a hand. “I sense a ‘but’ coming.” He ducked his head and entered the kitchen as Harold backed up into the room.
​Barbara drew an involuntary breath. Thor’s golden, sinewy thighs flexed under his short tunic. She could imagine his massive chest covered with a mat of soft flaxen hair. She gulped and shook the image out of her mind. “You have to understand, Thor, that our means are limited. Eating an entire cow every week isn’t something we can afford.”
​Thor stroked his beard. “I never thought much about where your meat comes from. I have to admit it has always just appeared in Asgard, where I live.”
​“But you don’t live there now,” Harold squeaked. “Barrels of mead don’t grow on trees here.” Thor glared at Harold who took a faltering step back. “But mead is good. Real good. Don’t get me wrong.”
​Thor set Mjollnir next to the refrigerator with a thump. The peppershaker jumped and rolled off the counter. He took off his helmet and shook out his blonde, shoulder-length hair. Barbara involuntarily swallowed hard to control her thoughts. “Listen, Thor,” she said. “We like you, and would love to have you stay, but….”
​Thor raised a massive finger to interrupt. “I have imposed. I’ve been inconsiderate.”
“Well, maybe a little.” Barbara said.
Benny magnanimously added, “Ah, don’t worry about it, Thor. They love having guests.” He met hard looks from both Barbara and Harold.
Thor didn’t notice the exchange, so deep was he in thought. He said, “The stories of old did not prepare me for this.”
​“That’s what I told them, dude,” Benny said defensively. “All this stuff that’s happened. It’s not your fault. Mom, dad, you can’t throw him out.”
​Barbara stepped forward and put a hand on Thor’s muscular forearm. A tingle shot up her arm and then curved downward. “Thor, darling, maybe we could extend your stay a bit, while you look for another place.”
​Thor looked down at her and placed his hand over hers. “You are very kind.”
​Harold bent down and picked up the peppershaker. With a tentative step forward he said, “Now, Barb, we made up our minds,” He glanced at Thor, emboldened by the god’s willingness to admit thoughtlessness. “You have been a tinsy-weensy bit of a burden…not that any of us are complaining.” He set the shaker back on the counter and added, “If you wouldn’t mind finding a place somewhere else…well, it would be okay with us.”
​Thor released Barb’s hand and turned away. “I’ve held counsel with my father at Asgard and my people, the Aesir. They are willing to have me back.”
​Harold looked at Barbara questioningly. She returned the look. They’d never thought that Thor’s stay with them was anything more than a godly romp. “You had to leave home?” Harold asked.
​“To clarify I must tell a story.”
“Tell away,” Harold said.
“Thrym, king of the Thurse, stole my hammer,” Thor explained. “He would wed Freyja for its return. But she would not have him, and rightly so. He was a stinking giant. It was decided to dress me in bridal linen to fool Thrym and get my hammer back.”
​“To get your hammer back you posed as Freyja?” Barbara asked.
​“To fool them you dressed up like a girl?” Benny exclaimed, incredulous.
​“By Odin, I did,” Thor admitted. He turned back to them and said in proud tone, “I wore the necklace of the Brisings and many valuable bridal jewels. My womanly linens were the finest, softest raiment in the land.” This last bit was said with a dreamy look, as though the memory were dear. “I made a fetching bride.”
​At a loss for what to say, Barb said, “I’m sure you made a…handsome bride.”
​“By god, I bet old Thrym had downed more than one barrel of mead if he couldn’t….” Harold immediately regretted it.
​Thor looked down at Harold and for a second Harold thought his life was over. But the god clapped him on the shoulder and chuckled. “Indeed he had!”
​“What happened then?” Benny asked.
​“They brought forth Mjollnir as agreed and I slew them all.” Thor shook the house with his laughter. The peppershaker danced into the sink. To illustrate the havoc he wrought, Thor picked up his hammer and swung it at imaginary giants while Barbara, Harold and Benny ducked for cover. One particularly high swing caught the ceiling fan and tore it from the ceiling. Thor’s mirth subsided and he caught his breath, still laughing to himself.
​Picking bits of ceiling plaster from their hair, the Barnard family slowly got back to their feet.
​Thor’s mirth passed with a last laugh. He noticed the ceiling fan. “Oh. I am truly sorry.”
“It, ah, wobbled anyway,” Harold said.
“But, I don’t understand,” Barbara said. “What has this story got to do with you being here? Why did you have to leave home?”
​Thor smiled and sighed. Setting his hammer on the floor and leaning on its long handle with both hands, a far-away look came into his eyes. “It was the feel of those soft, womanly linens.” He paused at the memory. “Swinging Mjollnir was so smooth. No chafing. It was Valhalla to smash heads. At first I had been afraid the Aesir would call me cowardly and womanish when I agreed to their plan to retrieve my hammer and dress so. But once dressed, it felt so different, so right. Afterward, I returned Freyja’s clothes but I could not forget.”
​There was a stunned silence. Then Benny spoke. “You like dressing up like a girl?”
​“To my shame.” Thor hung his head.
​Barbara suddenly guessed at why many of her undergarments had seemed stretched out lately.
​“Odin, my father, found me dressed so and banished me from Asgard.”
​Harold waved his hands in front of his face like he was trying to wipe away the image of Thor in drag. “Let me get this straight. You, Thor, a mighty warrior-kinda god, secretly like doing the girlie dress-up thing?”
​“You put it awkwardly, but yes,” Thor confirmed. There was now no more shame in his voice.
​Harold shrugged and said, “That’s okay, I guess.” He looked at Barbara in a strange superior way. He retrieved the peppershaker from the sink and set it resolutely back in the counter.
For some reason it dawned on Barbara that her husband had not been totally clueless about her Thor fantasies.
​“But do you like girls, I mean women?” Benny prodded.
​“Girls, women, yes I like them. To bed and to serve me.”
​“And the boys?” Harold asked, taking a risk.
​“To drink and eat with. We fight and smash heads. It’s the proper thing to do.”
​Harold nodded and crossed his arms, satisfied. “And your people are willing to have you back now?”
​Thor straightened his shoulders and held his chin high. “I am still the mightiest of the Aesir. And, it was their idea to first dress me as a bride. They are greatly to blame.”
​“You’re really going to leave us,” Benny asked in despair.
​“Yes, my young friend.” Thor placed a broad hand on Benny’s shoulder. “I thank you for taking me in. But the giants plan to attack Asgard and without Thor and his hammer, the Norse gods face Ragnarök, the end of the cosmos. I thank you all.”
​He left that very morning and the Barnard family experienced the abrupt release and relaxation that comes with the departure of even the most favored guest. The rest of the day felt empty and when dinner consisted of less than ten pounds of meat and four buckets of mead it finally came home that Thor was truly out of their lives. Only one quart of ice cream was needed for dessert. Exhausted by the morning’s events, Benny retired to his downstairs room while his parents watched the evening news. Barbara sat close to Harold on the couch and felt an unusual need to retire early.
Harold finished flossing and was about to gargle when he heard a coy, inviting voice come from the bedroom. At first he wasn’t even sure it was Barbara’s.
“Oh, Harold?” she intoned playfully.
​Harold stepped into their bedroom and to his amazement took in his wife in a sheer teddy, languidly propped up on one elbow in the middle of the bed. The special candle was burning. She tilted her head toward his dresser and said with half-closed eyes, “I liked the way you handled the situation this morning.”
​On his dresser lay one of Thor’s spare tunics.
​“Put that on, big boy.”