The Ancient History of Loneliness
James Valvis

1. Moses

He stops to rest. A pebble in his sandal the last six miles. Each step makes him cringe. He looks around. Nothing but shrubs and sand. And faces. Watching him, staring. He promised them a promised land. But promises don't always turn out. Not even God's. Sitting on a rock, he removes the pebble. The faces continue staring. Already golden calves burn in their eyes.

2. Socrates

He wakes for the last time. The trial is over. His friends are gone. He sent them away with a speech. He's always been good at that. At that and nothing else. What good would a life of exile be? He doesn't know how to farm or raise goats. Doesn't want to know. All he knows is philosophy, the art of conversation. He'd rather die than dirty his toga. He likes his hands soft. That's the truth. He's a bit lazy. He didn't mean to start trouble, but the rich boys of Athens paid his way. What else was he supposed to do? He wasn't given their advantages. But nobody likes a whiner, so he said he would die for the state. He lied. He doesn't care about the state. He wants the young bodies of the boys, hard beneath their togas. And their money. He wants that, is it so much to ask? Must a man sweat to have love, or life? If so, please pass the poison.

3. Alexander the Great

He wants to go further, straight to India. Conquer it all. But his soldiers are tired, homesick. He pleads first, then becomes enraged. He doesn't like being dependent. He threatens to go on alone, but no one believes him. On the way back, he mumbles his complaints. He'll raise a new army. Of men, not boys. The soldiers laugh behind his back, ache for their families. They don't care. None of them wants to be great. Alexander hears the laughter, pitches a tent, and crawls in it to die. Dying, he realizes even great men need a little help, and it would be nice to have a wife, a son. Maybe, he thinks, I'm too ambitious. But it's too late. Fever burns him alive.

4. Cleopatra

She whispers, Marc Antony. The Egyptian sun is setting. Ra is dying again. Ra needs their love or, if not their love, blood. Uncommon love or common blood. Ra demands it. She calls for her priests, tells them to kill a thousand slaves. Ra is angry. Marc Antony has not returned. Kill a thousand, she says, kill another thousand. The priests run out of the chamber, prepare the executions. Ra slips further into darkness. Cleopatra watches and waits. Her face is starving fire turning to ash. Marc Antony, she whispers, Marc Antony, what gods have you in Rome?

5. Jesus

He has been on this plank all day. Except John, his male friends are hiding, only the women remain. Women are brave, Jesus thinks. If I had to do it over again, I would preach only to them. Or not at all. Where is Peter? I called him the rock. Some rock. The sun is a desert sun. He's thirsty. Dying is not easy. Jesus calls for something to drink. He hopes God the Father is a woman. He is barely conscious when they brush his lips with vinegar. Nothing he preached seems to make sense anymore. He only knows he will leave this world with a bad taste in his mouth.

6. Nero

"Those Christians," Nero says. "I'll blame them." His fiddle is propped against the wall. Rome is burning while he stands on a balcony. Flames light the face of the girl next to him. "Why did you set fire to the city?" she asks. "Is it because you love me?" "No," Nero says. "I don't love. What has an Emperor to do with love?" "Surely," she says, "even an Emperor needs love." Nero walks over to the fiddle and grabs the bow. "Bend over," he tells the girl. When she bends over, he shoves the bow into her ass. "Why?" the girl screams. "Nero, why?" "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm bored. I'm so bored." She screams and screams, Nero saws. Outside, Rome burns to the ground. The fiddle remains propped against the wall, one string broken.