Moths came and went in whispers, a steady stream of them, following the same path through our house as though someone had given them a map, blueprints, a detailed architectural analysis. They came with a job to do, though it seemed that they were kind. Their wings against my face were kind. “What are they looking for?” I asked Kyro.
We were listening to Kyro’s music while he made dinner. Kyro had walls full of records. They were here when I came to this house, they kept us company in the dark. We loved Kyro’s music so much that sometimes we couldn’t help it, we had to get up in the middle of the night to push down the needle on our old record player, so the music crackled up like fire. There was no fire. Midnight, Kyro and I danced in our elegant night-shirts over the living room carpet, silently, waking no one.
“Light,” Kyro said. “They’re looking for light. Someone must have told them we have some, and they want to find it.”
“But there’s no light,” I said.
“I know.” He spread fat in the pan so it spat up hard and hot. Kyro’s face is rarely clear, but when it is, the clearest thing is the constellation of Aquila the Eagle pockmarked in white scar tissue over his cheekbone. It makes him look firm, just, logical, wise, though he is none of those things, he is only careless with hot fat.
“Where did the light go?” I asked him in a whisper.
Kyro cooked the fat black. “O far-sighted Cassandra,” he said.
“I am not far-sighted Cassandra.”
“Then what is your name?”
I turned away from him. I could not bring myself to tell him that my name was gone, lost with the light. Kyro shouted my name once, very loud, and it slammed against the window and the window shattered and it flew out like a sightless bird and now I have no name. But I did not want to upset him. Kyro is mostly a considerate housemate.
For dinner we ate dumplings made of flour and fat. They stuck in our throats like tears, but were the only things we could cook, since the light left. The light took other, more important things with it when it disappeared: plants and flowers, creatures for slaughter and sacrifice, all the blood of the world.
“We could build a moth-trap,” Kyro said, slicing his dumpling neatly with a fork and knife. “We could build tripwires and slipknots and have the whole kitchen rigged in a day, and then we could use their wings to light our fires again, we could have fires. Wouldn’t you like that? To have light?”
I looked away from him, out at the walls of our house, which, being invisible, were irrelevant; the dark let us live in a cathedral, in a loop of night sky, buried within one another’s rib cages. “You can’t kill the moths,” I said.
“Because,” I said, and closed my eyes, and even with my eyes shut I saw the dull outline of Kyro’s pockmark scars. “Because the moths never hurt you,” I said. It was a lie. A long time ago, or very recently, a moth crept into Kyro’s mouth while he slept and Kyro would have died, if I hadn’t heard him choking. The moths knew more than Kyro gave them credit for. They knew exactly what they wanted.
“Why do you hate them?” I asked.
Kyro wiped grease from his mouth with a linen napkin, every movement calm and blank. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, without intonation. “I don’t hate them at all.”
After dinner we danced. We loved Kyro’s music so much that we couldn’t help dancing, and there were crop-circles in the living room carpet where our dancing footsteps lived. Now and again we danced backwards. Then we saw the rain fall up instead of down, and the fat splash back into the pan, and the clock went tock-tick, tock-tick, tock-tick.
Kyro danced on a moth. He cursed at it and we had to stop. It is very rude to stop in the middle of a dance, but we had been too long without light to care about etiquette. I went to the record player and put on Kyro’s record. It is a nameless record, a wheel of songs in a jointless wheel. The first song is called ‘Haidinger’s Brush’. Kyro once told me that if you play this song backwards you will hear the Styx and the Lethe and the Phlegathon and the Acheron and the Cocytus, the rush of that underworld water, though when I turned the record over all I heard was static.
The song played and played, but we didn’t feel like dancing anymore.
In the story, Aquila is the eagle who belonged to Zeus. One time Aquila carried beautiful Ganymede up to the top of Mount Olympus to pour Zeus’s wine. Zeus drank wine made from nectar, sunlight and pollen and the sweet drop inside the honeysuckle flower. Aquila ate the mud of the mountainside. The black mud.
Aquila was not a good bird. The days of his long life spread out like a banquet and Aquila snatched at their red meat. He ate the liver of Prometheus and Prometheus was reborn whole and Aquila ate his liver again, again and again, and it was tender and glossy as a newborn baby, richer than fat and flour, and in a different story Aquila was one of the cruel birds Hercules hunted, one of seven impossible tasks, and Hercules was a man who knew what he wanted.
If Kyro is Zeus, then I could be Ganymede. I’d climb up and down the stairs for him in my deep-green dress, and uncork his wine, and call him ho basileus. I would be the tallest wine glass for his honeysuckle wine. But I am not Ganymede and Kyro is not Zeus, and so I don’t know who we are.
Kyro followed me into my bedroom. He sat on the edge of my bed, and when he tried to kiss me the moths flew up into his face, beating their wings against him. Their great wings washed my face in air. They were heavy as sheet metal. “No, Kyro,” I said.
“My name is not swift-spoken Cassandra.”
Kyro pulled me onto the bed beside him. His touch was a downwards tug and my name was gone already, I was afraid to go down any further without a thread to guide me back, without anyone following. “No, Kyro,” I said again. “You have your own bed to sleep in.”
The moths did not like Kyro, but they loved me. They settled in my hair and on my collarbone, which was the perfect size for them to rest on, as though my shape was carved specifically to be a chair for moths. They rustled like dead flowers.
Kyro looked up at me, in distaste or in hunger. He shut the door on me, my moths, my room, but he left a smudge of mud on my skirt, a clutch of fingerprints, and now I was a crime scene dusted for evidence, now I belonged entirely to his presence. The moths came and licked up Kyro’s dirt with long light tongues. They peered at me, shyly. “Where do you come from?” I asked. The moths said someone had sent them. “Who has sent you?” I asked. The moths said I had known him once, a long time ago; we had been close as earth and roots, and he had too many names for them to possibly remember. “Try,” I ordered, but the moths are nervous when put on the spot. Instead they recited for me their own detailed lineages, all of which began with Far-Sighted Cassandra, Linear Cassandra, Cassandra Disregarded.
I spent the night fashioning bird feeders out of the lightbulbs we no longer used. If there were birds, they could come to swing on lightbulbs full of seeds or nuts or dried bread and they would be living decorations and our house would be the brightest house. There are no birds. The moths tried out the bird feeders, experimentally, but found them too grand and chilly. Downstairs, music played over and over. The second song on Kyro’s record is called ‘Aphrodite’s Fire’. It is the second saddest song in the world, and also the one with the best beat. When the light left I lay on the floor and listened to this song over and over and I thought I knew what it was like to be nothing, an infinite nothing. It was like this.
The moths and I slept finally. We were uneasy about sleep. Our dreams had grown dark, recently, and intricately plotted. But we had each other, the moths and I, and the moths sat in a military row on my collarbone, and we faced our dreams together.
There are many stars in the constellation Aquila, but only three with names. Their names are Altair, Alshain, Tarazed. Altair means the flying one. Alshain means falcon. Tarazed means punica granatum, it means far-sighted Cassandra, it means when the light left. In the long history of the sky these stars are children. They have lost their mother. She was carried across the river of the Milky Way, or swept off by a current, or she picked up her skirt and her dancing shoes and ran.
By morning the moths were gone. They knew the hours of the day, even the lightless hours. That morning Kyro came down to breakfast in his masquerade costume. “Take it off,” I said. “You’ll set fire to your feathers on the stove.” Kyro took off the costume. It sat beside us at the dining room table, watching me through the empty eyeholes over its beak. The record was stuck on the third song, the song that plays when you take your toaster into the bath, and it would be unwise of me to say its name. I lifted the needle to stop it skipping.
“Why are you wearing that dress,” Kyro asked, “dark-hearted Cassandra?”
I stood over him, and my hands in their gloves recalled his hands at my neck. “My name is not dark-hearted Cassandra,” I said quietly. “And you should not say it is. You should never say something like that. Why,” I said, “why would you say that?”
Kyro pressed himself back in his chair, and his eyes were big and black. “I thought-–”
“You didn’t think.”
Kyro ate his breakfast in silence, bent over his plate. For a moment I felt wild and savage and my hands knotted into fists and I dreamed of something nameless and terribly, unspeakably sweet, but then the song called ‘Prisoner’s Cinema’ played like a ballet and Kyro and I laughed and kissed and made up. He does not mean to hurt me, I said to the sightless walls. He is only confused. All this dark would confuse anyone.
A long time ago Kyro and I slept in the same bed at night and he guarded me in all the unsafe hours and our names were long and regal. I owned my skin and my epithets, and my lineage was a thousand thousand years long. Back then there was light for our windows and there was fire for our coal and I had a job to do. No dark ever trapped us like a winding tunnel back then.
After breakfast Kyro went into his room to work. He never told me what he was working on, but all day I heard him hammer and saw. I swept mud from the floor and the walls and the cupboards. My gloves moved quietly over soil. And deep, deep in the back of the cupboard, my gloves found something hard and round. I pulled it out and polished it on my dress. “It seems to be an onion,” I said, and although there was no one to hear me it did seem to be an onion, wrinkled and yellow, the shape of a heart instead of a circle. I said, “I believe onions to be very piquant, do you agree?” The moths flew from the darkness to my shoulder, and they agreed, despite their caution. “I am so hungry,” I whispered. I wrapped the onion in a piece of newspaper. I hid it in my skirt.
Aquila the Eagle was a dangerous bird. He was a broken-clawed bird, a golden-eyed bird, a dark-winged bird, a dark-hearted bird. Hercules, the immeasurable army of him, killed Aquila for a reason. Each story murders Aquila over and over. The eagle took only what he wanted and he was never cruel, he fought like a hunter. But some things need to be killed now and then, no matter their intentions. A cull for balance. That’s just the way the world works. When Aquila died the gods set him in the stars with Cygnus the Swan and Lyra the Vulture. They did not converse. Birds have their own detailed hierarchies. The gods ordered Aquila to pull the seasons in the grasp of his beak. Knotted in his fierce grip, the sky spins over the earth, and so it is Aquila who brings the dark, in the dark time of year.
We ate dinner in our evening finery: cravats, kid gloves, coattails, petticoats, jewelled dog collars and jesses. Our silver cutlery against the plates sounded like cruel wit. Kyro frowned down at his exquisite cufflinks. “You might have informed me,” he said, motioning to the rows of moths settled on my shoulders, “that we were to expect company.”
“It was a thoughtless mistake.”
“Yes,” I said. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Kyro.”
Kyro murmured something, and then he said a name, but it wasn’t my name, it was wild-eyed Cassandra. “That’s not my name,” I said. Kyro didn’t hear. He had tilted his head towards the living room, where the music still played on a terrible loop. There was a song on the record called ‘Crying the Neck’, and I believe this to be the song that halts oceans in their paths until they dry to shelves of rock and salt. I believed myself to be tired of the endless night and stasis and the dirt of Kyro’s fingerprints over my best dresses. “When I am queen we will listen to my music,” I told Kyro one night. He had smiled at me. “That’s why you will never be queen,” he said. A door slamming shut.
We danced. Kyro pressed his hands to the bend of my back and he said we needed no one but each other, we didn’t need anyone. He ate my bright liver over and over. I said, “When I’m queen –” but Kyro pushed me away. The expression on his face was natural disaster.
“You will never be queen,” he said.
The grandfather clock in the living room measured our dance steps like a metronome. Clocks lived everywhere in Kyro’s house, thousands of them, great sweeping halls of them, all the clocks in the world. He built them himself, from dust and particles, welding our discarded selves in his workshop so that they could come back, reformed, and keep our footsteps steady. I stepped out of the dance. Kyro gasped, shocked, but I walked to the grandfather clock and snatched the pendulum up in my fist. The pendulum had a round white face. Its two eyes, sad as orphans, blinked up at me slowly, and the down-turned mouth whispered a word that might have been my name. I tore the pendulum from the skeleton of the grandfather clock. Kyro watched me go.
In my room, I sat on the tilted bed. I smoothed my dress. “One must never leave a dance half-danced,” I told the moths, and they nodded their many jewelled heads, for they were well-acquainted with the conventions of the ballroom. “But there are more important things,” I said.
The pendulum’s pale shape fit in my hands like a heart, my own. It sighed and murmured. “Who are you?” I asked it. “Why are you keeping time for us in Kyro’s living room?”
It smiled at me, kindly, but did not speak. The moths pooled around the rim of its face, peering down into it as though they wanted to drink from its milky depths.
“How long have you been kept here?” I asked.
The pendulum said nothing.
“What is my name?” I whispered.
The pendulum opened its coin-round mouth. “Fennel,” it said.
I considered. I was not a serpent-eared Cassandra, nor a nut-hollow Cassandra, but nor was I a Fennel. “You are thinking of someone else,” I said politely.
The pendulum laughed, a tickle in the palm of my hand. “I did not mean you,” it said.
The moths nosed aside the skirts of my long evening dress, to where I had hidden the onion from the cupboard, fastened with twine around my thigh to hide it from Kyro. Up close, it did look like an onion, after all. “Do you think it’s poisonous?” I asked the moths. The moths had nothing to say to me, and I was hungry, I had left dinner unsatisfied, so I peeled the fennel bulb’s brown skin and ate it like an apple, delicious, liquorice-scented. The moths fluttered over my mouth to steal a taste. Their small sighs kissed my lips.
The door slammed against the wall, scattering plaster. Kyro slid into my room. He carried his wood saw in one hand, his hammer in the other, and his mouth was a vicious arc. “What have you done?” he demanded.
“What have you done, you storm-minded Cassandra?”
“My name is not storm-minded Cassandra.”
“What terrible thing have you done?” he shouted. His voice cracked into a shriek.
The moths sat in luminary rows on my wrists and my collarbone. Their gaze was inscrutable, a wall of nuance, slight and watchful; their breath spoke the many angles of my name, and I could almost hear it. Lying face-up on my bed, the pendulum hummed softly to itself.
“I ate the light,” I said.
Kyro dropped his hammer, but did not seem to realise. Light swarmed and rang inside of me. I opened my mouth, and it washed shape and colour over everything, turning the moths into stained-glass windows. The pendulum, murmuring nonsense words, opened its mouth and swallowed a mouthful of light. “Spring,” it said. “Summer. Autumn. Winter.”
I licked the last of the fennel’s juice from my fingers. “Your names?”
“Not mine. My name is Moon.”
Moon, the moths whispered. This was something I remembered, a curious word that belonged to my own vocabulary. “Moon,” I repeated.
Kyro reached for me. “We were together,” he said desperately, harshly, “all I wanted was for us to be together.”
“You don’t even know my name.”
“Please,” he breathed. His fingers hooked into talons.
The last song on Kyro’s record is called ‘The Staff of Hermes’. It is in a foreign language, and so is a mystery, like all the best songs; but upon reflection I believe it is a song about time’s return to a seasonless world, a song about fields and flowers, sacrifice and foresight, light cupped in the black bowls of fireplaces and light high over forests and oceans. It is a song meant for both day and night. A road outstretched. A linear kingdom for a returning queen.
I moved towards Kyro. Every pendulum in the house arched to me in longing, every hour hand, every minute hand, an ecstasy of time, and it was mine, it was my name. Kyro beat his wings against the door frame. The moths, bright as constellations, descended on his fallen feathers and devoured them. Kyro’s scream rose to the ceiling beams.
“Run,” I told him.
Becca De La Rosa lives in Dublin, Ireland, and is currently studying Ancient Greek at university. Her stories have been published in Strange Horizons, The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Sybil’s Garage, and Clarkesworld, among other places. You can find her online at www.beccadelarosa.com. She says:
This story was inspired by a number of Greek myths and mythological characters, and by an article in a science magazine about time and the telling of time, and by living in a house that fills up with moths every summer, all summer long.
The last time I met Lenore she was all blue. There were oceans everywhere over her, even where there shouldn’t be oceans, and her fingers were fingers of sea, long and blue. Lenore’s smile was like a summer sky that had grown teeth. Lenore had continents, but they were shrinking.
We met on the last train from the city. We were late. That’s how it always used to be with me and Lenore, the empty train and the black line of tracks, but I hadn’t seen her since the last time, when we had the argument that rattled the whole train line like a teacup in a saucer. “Jamie?” Lenore said. She sounded startled. “What are you doing here?”
I stretched out in my seat, very casually, so she wouldn’t know I had been riding trains up and down in the dark to see her like this. Casually, I said, “This is public transport, Lenore,” but it didn’t sound as clever as I thought it might.
She left her seat to sit beside me. Her long black jacket smelled of seaweed and rain. There was blue even in the parting of her hair, an ocean no one had discovered or named, probably all ice. There was so much I wanted. I wanted to know whether her skin had grown hard as an eggshell or cold and dry as snakeskin. I wanted to know if she was still blue and green all over. But it would have been rude to ask, so I smiled my friendliest smile and waited for her to speak.
When we first met Lenore looked nothing like this. She had skin-colored skin, lip-colored lips, and brown hair in two braids. Back then I was the stranger one. I wore leather gloves in summer and wrapped my head up in red bandanas and wool hats. Anyone would know just by looking at me that I had something to hide. We met on an empty train, and when a man threw himself down on the tracks to die and everything ground to a halt, Lenore and I sat side by side to make up eulogies. The train slept for hours between stations. Ambulance sirens howled in through the windows, and outside was a girl, screaming help him. “Is this how you would want to end your life?” Lenore asked. “It wouldn’t matter much to me,” I said carelessly, “I have nine of them.” Lenore was supposed to be impressed. She just looked disappointed.
Now, there like a rain cloud, like an atlas of all the places I’d never been, she settled back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not sorry,” she said.
“I meant it, Jamie.”
“So did I,” I said, but wasn’t really sure.
When she sat this close I could see the land of Europe on her cheeks and mouth. When she blinked I saw Finland. Europe didn’t know it, but the Mediterranean Sea was creeping up her shoulders, hungry for a second Flood. Europe ought to be warned. I just didn’t think I was the man for the job.
“Anyway. How are you?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said.
I should have said that when my mother died for the last time I made a house underneath a train seat where it was warm and dry. All day long I counted shoes, coming and going. At night the train and I slept together in the station. My house grew around me like a seashell. I decorated it with shiny silver gum wrappers and made a bed of daily newspapers, and I never had to pay for a ticket. I should have said, I am not well, but I take care of myself.
After the first time I saw her we met again and again on the last train out of the city. Lenore always wore black wool dresses and heavy black shoes. “Remember when you said you had nine lives?” she asked, the second time we met. “Why did you say that?” I shrugged and looked out the window. The wind ribboning in through the open window had grown teeth and nails. “Because I was thinking about it,” she said. “And what does it even mean to have nine lives? Does it mean that you’re reborn nine times, in the same life, or does it mean you get to be someone else? Or that you get nine times to die and come back to life?” She leaned in towards me and I could smell wet wool and flowery shampoo. “And when you die,” she said, “nine times, are there nine ghosts of you all over the place, waiting for the last part of you to die? So if you have nine lives, does it mean that every time you are getting a little bit smaller? Is it a little bit more like death every time?” she asked. I said, “I don’t know.”
But the third time we met she put her hand on my shoulder, and I took off my leather gloves to show her my fingers. She examined them carefully. “How strange,” she said, sounding doubtful. I shook my hair out of the bandana so that it rattled around my shoulders. Lenore pulled one strand tight. “What does it mean?” she asked. I could have answered that, too, but I didn’t.
After I had known Lenore for a few weeks the Baltic Sea grew between her nose and her left eye. It looked like a small blue teardrop. Lenore seemed sadder than usual. When I leaned in close to her face, I saw that the teardrop was ringed with little green dots and labelled neatly, THE BALTIC SEA. I touched it, but it felt like skin. “What—” I began. Lenore pushed my hand away. “It’s a tattoo,” she said. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, Jamie, but it’s a tattoo.” I asked her if it had hurt. “Not any more than I thought it would,” she said.
The world grew over Lenore’s skin. The North Sea came next, and Europe down her face and neck. Russia marched slowly across her right breast and arm, meeting the side of the United States on her shoulder blade. Africa and Australia on her legs. South America on the back of her left thigh. Antarctica came last. She showed me when it was finished, kicking off her shoes to rest her feet in my lap, still red from the needle, but white as if she’d walked in flour. “What next?” I asked. She said ocean.
The last time I saw Lenore we sat together without talking for a long time. I asked her how she was doing. “Fine,” she said, like an echo. I thought maybe she was drowning. “How is your husband?” I asked, very politely.
“He’s doing well,” she said. “Is your mother better?”
“I’m sorry,” Lenore whispered.
These platitudes were code. I thought they might be code for I have ridden the train up and down like you have, or maybe just I missed you. Lenore folded her hands very neatly and I tried not to stare at their color, the Atlantic and Pacific of them tangled up like tide.
Lenore had a husband. She told me about him after I had known her for a while. She said he had hand-shaped hands and hair-shaped hair, and what he lacked in imagination he made up for in loyalty. I thought I could be loyal, but I didn’t say anything. Lenore said her husband worked in an office with his name in brass plate over the door. He had a big black dog named Siobhan, and made omelettes with portobello mushrooms on Sunday mornings, and once, when he was drunk, he broke her arm. “Let me see,” I had said when I heard that. Lenore had smiled, as if she felt sorry for me, and said, “You can’t see it, Jamie. It’s not broken anymore,” but of course I’d understood that, I just wanted to make sure she was better.
Lenore is older than I am but not old. I am not young. She is not old enough to be my mother, and I’m not young enough to be her son. Her history is longer, but I have a history too. This is it. A long time ago my great-grandfather married a cat named Mahogany. She was a very fine cat, and our family has her eyes and her solitary nature. My great-grandfather met Mahogany in a lending library: she was curled up asleep on a copy of The Tempest, which he wanted to read. He asked her to move, very politely. As a rule our family is very polite. Mahogany opened one eye, looked unimpressed, and slashed him across the face. In all the daguerreotypes of him my great-grandfather has that scar, like a neat seam over his cheek and under his eye. It is really very dashing. That was how they met; and my great-grandfather and Mahogany were married in Sicily, and he wore his army uniform with all its decorations, and she wore her own black fur. My great-grandparents were very happy together. They had seven children. All of their children were violins as well as boys and girls. When Mahogany died, my great-grandfather died three days later, of a broken heart.
“What are you going to do with your nine lives?” Lenore asked me once. I said, quite grandly, “Everything.” This is not true. It doesn’t work that way. Having nine lives doesn’t mean having all the best days of your life, but more of them. It means too much time alone with your thoughts. It means getting tired of the things you love much more quickly. To be honest, I am not glad my great-grandfather married a cat.
Once I asked Lenore if she was a ghost. Lenore raised her eyebrows at me. Her eyebrows were two black islands, floating up there in the Arctic Ocean. “Jamie—” she began. I said, “I’ve never seen you outside of a train. I’ve never seen you in the daytime. The first time we met, someone died. You could be a ghost. It’s perfectly possible.” Lenore opened her mouth, and from the look on her face I thought she was going to say something like you have to be kidding me or are you drunk? but she only took off one of my gloves. Her fingers slid through mine, blue as air. “Oh, Jamie,” she said. That was all she said.
Tree branches scraped up against the train window. I wondered if she ever did that to her husband, if she ever took off his glove or his tie while she said his name that way, and I hoped she did. He should be happy. He should know what he had when he had it. I wondered if blue ocean and land covered up the bruises his hands left on her. Her husband had his name in a big brass plate but I bet he wouldn’t make a home for her on a train, with newspaper for bedding and curtains of old umbrellas and a decorative glass sculpture made from empty vodka bottles. I thought that maybe Lenore should have someone who would do those things for her. I never once asked her to leave her husband, or to run away with me, never once. That was why we argued. Because I didn’t ask.
I saw her one time before we argued, and she was drunk. She had a bottle of cheap brown rum with pirates on the label. I said, “What the hell, Lenore?”
Lenore shook her head, smiling her blue smile. “My name is not Lenore,” she said, very gravely, “no. That’s not my name. My name is everything, but you can call me Jamie if you like.”
“What happened to you?” I asked. As the train chased along the tracks, the rum in her bottle splashed out over her hands, and she set it between her knees to hold tight. She had blood or dirt trapped underneath her fingernails. If there were bruises on her skin, I couldn’t see them.
“Nothing, nothing happened,” she snapped. “I’m just tired. God,” she said, almost in a whimper. “I’m so tired.” She dropped her head on my arm. The Pacific Ocean had swollen, reached over her shoulder, nibbled a little bit of Russia away. I was suddenly afraid. I was afraid of being with her when oceans ate the world, when the land we sat on went under without putting up a fight. “I’m sorry,” Lenore said, over and over, “I’m sorry, I’m so embarrassed.” It was all right, I told her.
Our whole family hates water. It’s what comes of being part cat and part soldier. My mother died twice in a lake, the same lake; some people might say this was silly of her, but I say it was destiny. If you happen to be afraid of water there is not much you can do about it. I collected newspapers left on trains, looking for news of flooding, and carried a raincoat in my bag, and two red umbrellas. I had that argument with Lenore. It was not much of a battle plan, but it was the best I had.
The last time I saw her Lenore opened the window to let night in. Both of us were very considerate. We sat close, but not close enough to touch. We talked about work and holidays and how long winter was stretching on this year. Before my stop, before I could get up, Lenore stuck her hand in my hand. “Wait,” she said, “Jamie, wait. Don’t go just yet.”
I didn’t go. She rested her head on my shoulder. Even her ears were blue, inside and out, little whirlpools. I would have to walk home now in the wind.
“I could learn to play the violin,” Lenore said.
I said, “I wouldn’t know what to do with you.”
That wasn’t what I meant. It was the water. I wouldn’t know what to do when it swallowed her whole. I wondered if Lenore’s body might be a prophecy waiting to come true, the whole world drowned. I wondered if even she knew what she was drowning in.
“Listen,” I said.
I carefully pushed her head away from my shoulder. I flexed my fingers, untied the bandana from around my head. My hair is hard as wire and my fingers are thin and very straight. I stretched my hair across my mouth, curled tight in my fist. I drew one finger across one strand of hair. The sound was high and sweet.
When my mother died for the last time we all played together. That is another thing my great-grandmother passed down to us: big families with a tendency to leave home early and never come back. My brothers and sisters and I played for a long time in the hospital room where my mother died. I remembered her saying, I’m so tired. My brothers and sisters left. I didn’t ask where they went. They didn’t ask me where I was going. I know they are still alive somewhere, at least. That’s one of the good things about having nine lives.
The notes buzzed around my mouth like honeybees, echoing down my throat, and the vibrations made me dizzy but the song was very beautiful. I thought it might be a song about levees, or maybe just about drowning. Lenore dropped her head in my lap. I could feel her crying. On the back of her neck, Greenland sank like Atlantis.
Becca De La Rosa has had fiction published in Strange Horizons and LCRW, among other places. She is currently studying English at an art college in Ireland.
I had the idea for this story while waiting for the train in winter. It combines a few of my favourite obsessions: secret identities, failed relationships, tattoos, safe places, and trains.