There are things you don't do. You don't tell them your real name, first of all, and you don't come in barefoot when the carpet glitters with needles of broken glass like mica, and you don't ask them questions you can't already answer.
Your name is Cradle. This is all you need to know.
Beside the battered drum kit a skeleton stands at attention, a pink bow pinned to a crack in her skull. Her name is Window. She has come from the country with you, sitting in the back seat of your car with a shawl around her shoulders so she won't get cold. Her joints are stuck together with pins. Window can bend like a gymnast.
The girl singing with you this time is round like a Venus di Milo and you think her name is Allison. She's wearing a purple Lolita dress and long fake dreadlocks in her hair, fat Mary Janes, torn fishnet stockings. Her arms are tattooed with spider webs. She looks like a clumsy corpse who's been sampling glitter products in the make up aisle. You could betray her easily.
They expect something in this club, the same way they do everywhere. They expect you to wear ra-ra skirts with thick petticoats and smeared vampire lipstick on your mouth, to play background to the singer's smoke-throat voice, so you do. None of the kids in this club know that you can play secrets with your bow. Your cello has a name, which is Tree.
When the set is over Allison descends into a crowd of admirers and you bring Tree and Window over to the bar, where a kid with a fluffy mohawk says, "What are you drinking?" and you don't answer. "Take it easy," you tell Window and Tree, and push yourself off the bar stool to find a bathroom. Window and Tree can take care of themselves.
The bathroom wall is a blackboard. Chalk hangs in a bucket on a chain. You sit on the floor and close your eyes, because it is hard sometimes to be what you are, whatever you are. This is not one of the things you need to know.
The blackboard wall says, _There is no love_.
On the dashboard of your car there is a stack of yellow papers. They are drawings of medieval torture devices from old books. You love medieval torture devices, though you couldn't say why. There are hundreds of them. The cages to catch your tongue. The racks to make you taller. Pyramids of stone that you are lowered onto, with pulleys and chains. In the old pictures the victims always look so peaceful, serene Buddhas in bondage, their faces turned towards you. Look what I feel.
Someone bangs on the bathroom door. You flip the lock and smile at the girl with the vinyl-red platform boots until she squints. "Hey, I heard you," she says. "You were really good. And that other chick was amazing. How does she get her voice to sound like that?"
"She freebases heroin," you say, and slide past.
It's time for you to go. Window looks disapproving of all this black lace and crinoline, and a boy with black fingernails is about to tip his cigarette ash into Tree's mouth. You lead them out of the bar, around the back, into the smokey parking lot. Your car doesn't have a name. You roll the top down, to feel air on your face, and so Window and Tree can cool down, although they're not complaining. Skeletons and cellos make good company.
Some things you know about Window.
She made her way to your doorstep on her swinging limbs. You found her there and asked her in for a cup of tea, and when you were both seated at the table you noticed the knobs of ice glittering in the notches of her spine. Her grin was a cover for hypothermia. "You're chilled to the bone," you said, and though you could keep a straight face, Window smiled and smiled.
In bad weather a sparrow lives in Window's rib cage. His name is Matteo. Window is in love with mirrors. Her pelvis is shaped like the body of a violin, hazelnut-brown, smooth and hollow. Sometimes Window's smile is so sad you can hardly look at her, and you think she's done something she shouldn't have done, that she made a choice and it was the wrong one, and maybe she's cursed, and isn't the best travelling companion after all.
You drive all night. You like this, the way streetlights blur together and squares of light slide over you and Window and Tree. The man on the radio talks slowly and his voice sounds like insomnia and coffee grounds. From time to time the others doze, but you don't need sleep. It's one more thing you have betrayed.
Once you spent all night listening to cello music on someone's vintage Victor Credenza, and when the music stopped you listened to scratches on the record, tiny sounds and wicked as a cigarette burning down to ash.
White graffiti on a concrete wall says: Don't be blind.
"Where are we going?" you ask Window and Tree, but neither of them answers. They must be tired. It's better this way: there is no telling if you would listen to them at all.
There was someone once. A boy, or a girl. Call him Alex. Call her Alex. You would never say so but you loved Alex's eyes and freckled arms. You played duets in an empty loft and Alex didn't stop kissing you to say this is the only love we need. For Christmas Alex gave you a test tube full of sand. Sometimes you were afraid of how much you wanted.
Alex had a secret. You heard it in the middle of the night and swore your silence. You thought you could keep it, told yourself this is the only love we need, tried to ignore when the secret bit at you. You grew thin because the secret was all you needed to eat. Alex slept all night but you gave that up, living off the secret. In the end you betrayed it. You whispered it into Tree's ear and Tree gobbled it up with her knobby teeth and spat it back out, changed and melodic but unmistakable. Then you knew what you were. You left Alex and the empty loft for the skeleton and the cello, to play in smoky bars, to watch road wind up like thread on a bobbin, to betray everyone's secrets.
It doesn't matter that Alex had beautiful eyes, beautiful skin. Everyone is smooth and hollow in the end.
Still. You want and want.
Some things you know about Tree.
She was carved from the wood of the love-tree. People said this was not the right wood for a cello, but people don't know everything. Her strings are stretched tight as a grin. You bought her from a man on the side of the road for twenty-seven fifty and a ripe satsuma. Her voice is deep and difficult as history, as something hard that has to be done. When you play you hug and saw her. Tree loves secrets almost as much as you do, and loves betraying them. Her voice is perfect for this. Her one long arm points out people with bad pasts to discover.
Tree's body is dirty with scars. She is eyeless. Sometimes you think her tight smile is a scream, her f-holes gaping like slashed wrists. Tree's history is not holy.
You are the night-watchman. When morning comes your shift is over. You park in a concrete lot above the beach and offer a bite of your apple to Window and Tree, although neither of them is often hungry. Down on the beach are a girl and a dog. The girl stops to kick stones and spray. Her hands are jammed down into her pockets. You can hear Tree humming, deep in her belly, and you bet the girl is riddled with secrets like cancer, but you don't have the energy to find them. A sad Arvo Pärt song comes on the radio. The violin and the piano parts are too far apart, can't reach other from where they are, are lonely. You warm your hands over the cigarette lighter.
You saw Alex once after you left. It was at a show, when you wore a black dress and played background music for two boys who had soft desperate singing voices and wore too much eyeliner. You waited and waited but Alex did not come up to you, so in the end you did it yourself. "Did you like the show?" you asked. You thought about how the black dress made your chest look great and how you could still remember the constellations Alex's freckles shaped.
"You know you can play," Alex said.
"That's not what I asked."
Alex swung off the bar stool, slid cigarettes and keys into the leather jacket you could still almost smell yourself on. "Is there something you want? Is there something I can do for you?"
"No," you said, hurt and trying not to show it. "I was just talking."
"I'd rather you didn't. There's somewhere I have to be."
"Wait," you said, but Alex was already gone.
The wind rolling off the sea creeps into your car and makes your hands stiff. "Come on, girls," you say to Window and Tree, but they are ignoring you. You drive until you find a motorway. There are always motorways, the same way there are always shows to be played, always secrets to be found and given away. The air tastes like gasoline. Graffiti on a billboard says, _They have come and gone_. You watch an amber pill bottle rattle down the dual carriageway and think about how it was all for him, or her, whoever it was.
About the author:
Becca De La Rosa has had fiction published in Strange Horizons and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, among other places. She is currently studying English at an art college in Ireland.