Over at the piano, he’s playing something Eurydice doesn’t recognize. He’s playing it for her, she knows. He’s making it up as he goes along.
She can feel him love her, his love soaking through his fingertips with every brush of the keys. Or maybe he’s loving the music, but they feel unerringly alike. She’s asked him about it. Living with him, here, alone, consumed with him, lends itself to philosophy: she’s said teach me and she meant music and he hadn’t the time, so she said teach me and meant love and he smiled and kissed her and tried to wax poetical, and it was late at night and the moon had poured in through the window, and she’d thought, he wasn’t so good at words as he was with musical notes. Finally she’d lain her head on his chest, bare under her ear, and listened to the tock-a-tock of his heartbeat, and loved it, and loved that it was music, and loved that he was not affecting it. His chin had rested on the part of her hair. Before he had made a sound, she felt a vibration in his chest and in his throat, and a second later he started to hum. She fell asleep to it. She falls asleep to it, the drum of his heartbeat and the song on his lips, and if he’s not there when she wakes up, he’s only a room away. She wakes up to music every morning. She is lucky, they are lucky.
She wishes she knew what he was playing, that she could watch the melody on paper just as he pulls it out of the air. There’s no sheet music, though. She knows better by now. She contents herself with watching him. Curled up on the couch, knees up to her chest, she puts down her book and soaks in the grace of his wrists and the stretch of his fingers. It wasn’t a very good book anyway. His fingers shiver up an arpeggio and he hits a high, fine chord that she feels coursing up her spine, ringing at the nape of her neck, and she gets up. The floor is cold and splintery under her bare feet, and she treads carefully over to the piano bench. She puts a hand on the back of his neck, just where she felt the music hit her a moment before. Rubs a thumb over the hard joint that pokes through when he bows his head. Under the threadbare white of his shirt his shoulder blades are bone wings, seraphic and alarming.
He doesn’t stop playing. One hand climbs slowly up the scales until there’s nowhere higher to climb and then, only then, it sings through the air onto her body. His arm wraps around her waist, her hips, and his other hand sinks deeper, deeper, basso profundo on the keys, and his right hand is playing an arpeggio up the line of her ribs, his thumb is making a chord on her spine, and the song continues unbroken and she is hot and cold and shivering in his arm, in the half of his body he has given her. She kisses the crown of his head, lips to unbrushed hair, and she waits for the song to end, but there’s never a guarantee that the song will end. He hits a dark, lovely note that traces its strung warmth against the inner hollow of her belly, and his fingers scrape-drum tympanically along the hollow of her rib, and she jerks. Her arm lands on the piano in a harsh, clumsy motion, fingers starfishing over the upper register, and there is silence, the last shrill dischord overlaying the last thrum. The song wasn’t over.
He looks up at her with large eyes and she thinks she sees disappointment. Contrition cools the heat between her legs, the warmth in her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she says. Her voice is small in the room, drowned out in the silence and the echo. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Are you sore with me?”
“No,” he says. Blinks, and his eyes are full of her. “It’s still in my head. And you’re here.”
“It was yours,” he says, and he pulls his hands, both hands up, to cup her face and kiss her full and she sighs into it. Her hips knock against the piano keys but this time they love the dischord, they keep loving the dischord. He slides a hand up under the thin softened edge of her slip and the fabric crinkles up over her thighs and up to her waist under his wonderful long fingers. He traces where he touched before through the fabric on bare skin now, follows the bone of her hip and slips down under her underthings, pulls them low and plays her like a song.
She wonders, sometimes, how she came here, what she was before him. Tries to look back at an image of herself that came before the city, before the songs, before the boy Orpheus saw the girl Eurydice with her head tilted to catch and keep the song he was playing. Suburbs like Arcadia dance in the back of her mind, blinding green lawns and washed stucco-white walls. She shakes it off; she cannot see herself any longer there, and that means she was nothing there, nothing worth starting a story over, nothing worth putting down in song.
Nothing was something, of course: she played the cello, she got a good education. She can read sheet music and Simone de Beauvoir in the original French; he would never have loved anything less. And she loved him first. She has that on him. She saw him first, heard him first. He may pluck songs of her out of the air, but she saw him first, the light on the back of his head, his fingers fretting with the wooden roof of the closed piano. He was waiting, silent, beautiful enough, though not of course quite as beautiful as the things he does. She could tell even then that there was something better to come. Looking at him was like holding her breath.
She could swim. She had taken lessons, back in the nothing-that-was-something. She held her breath then like she was sucking in chlorine fumes and not the harsh thick back-of-the-tongue reek of fresh-made grain liquor. She’d only ever swum in pools, she’d only ever been to two states in her whole life. This was the second and she was already in someone’s back room, stockings rolled to her knees. The girl from the temp agency had told her not to be a stiff. That girl was sitting across from her now. First table, front of the room. “They say this one’s really good. Do you like music?”
She couldn’t have known. Music was rosin at her fingertips, sore learned satisfaction, Beethoven or Brahms or Mozart. It might never have come natural, but she remembered the language, she still knew the knew the names of pitches and paces and moods. Andante. Allegro. She will learn those again, fresh, under him. Adagio, lentando, lento, largo, moving so slow inside her she feels her heart go heavy and thick in her chest. But not now. Now, then, she is, she was looking up at him for the first time and waiting for him to start playing, and then he did.
A man had asked the other girl to dance the minute the first song had started up. Eurydice had not heard them go, not really. Had seen them out of the corner of her eye, the minute before her vision thinned, narrowed to the radius of the pianist playing his song on the stage. Under the table, her feet knocked together, her ankles moved like she was drunk already and trying to walk, but the rest of her wasn’t moving at all. He was in her bones, or the thing he made with his hands on the keys was in her bones, and she was stuck fast to her seat and her tongue was thick in her mouth and she had never tasted her drink.
He didn’t see her. Not til the song was done. That’s five minutes she has on him, five minutes’ love before it was requited. Enough for the gentlest of upper hands.
She understands music better now, far better.
Nothing was something, if only this much: nothing kept her fed. Sometimes she goes to bed hungry now, sometimes she’s lying on her back, on the mattress or the secondhand couch, and he’s not there, and she puts her hand on the bone bird of her ribs and her hips and she feels the unmelodic tiger growl underneath.
She hadn’t liked work. Hadn’t liked typing or answering phones. “So don’t,” he’d said, and it was awfully clever at the time. He’d had her hand in his. When she’d said she wouldn’t, then, he’d kissed her knuckles. His voice was soft and raspy from singing in a smoky room. It reinvented her name when he said it, and the time after that, too. She was new in his mouth every time. There was a song choking the back of his raspy throat, she could hear it, they both could. Just for her. But he’d had to rest his voice, she told him so, and she put water on to boil for the both of them. The kitchen was small and grimy and from the first minute she put her foot on the tile it was theirs. It’s whiter now, though just as small; she’s washed the walls.
She hasn’t had a drop to drink since they met. He doesn’t like it. It’s not the law. She doesn’t know if he’s ever thought twice about the law, or any other law. He’d be living the same whether legal or illegal; he’s immutable, alone in his apartment and singing his songs and loving her and careless of all the rest. What he hates is the rough edges, the way the homemade stuff sparks and bites in the back of your throat. Tastes like courage to her, but she doesn’t have the same kind of voice to maybe lose. He doesn’t even like milkshakes. They stick at the back of his throat. Sometimes he takes her out and he doesn’t eat a thing and drinks even less, maybe water if they give it to him. It’s enough to see her eat, he’s said, and drink, and sometimes he buys her wonderful things, steak and ice cream sodas and drinks in hotels that they make clean and legal but still under the old cocktail names, Alexanders and rickeys and Rob Roys, and watches the straw in her mouth, the scrape of her fork. He is hungrier than her, always, though she’s never heard him complain. On nights like those, his eyes are terribly bright. His fingers tick along the polished table edge, impatient for music, making do with her. She hates the making-do, that she knows it’s a kind of settling, but she wishes she didn’t warm so at the brightness of his eyes. She remember how the light compressed around him and the music the first time she saw him, spotlight into halo. It doesn’t seem wrong to hoard the reflection of it, even if she doesn’t look a thing like him or like music, even if it’s her bitten lips and cola tongue sucking in the light of his eyes.
He should settle. She tries to settle him, to rub the tension from between his sharp bones, to lay her lips to his temple and make tea that they drink in the middle of the night, both of them, so they both know there’s nothing servile in the teakettle hiss. He has never resisted anything she’s ever done for them. It’s just that he has to finish. There is a song waiting to come out, waiting for him to do it justice. Wait just five minutes. It’ll be over soon, and it’s too beautiful now, then, ever, to protest.
Back when nothing was something there was a girl in her hometown that they always warned her about, the one she wasn’t supposed to end up like. Cora, the girl, with bright strawberry hair, who went to the city and never came back. Come back, Eurydice, whisper the green grasses and white walls. You’re not like her. You’re a nice girl. That one stopped being nice a long time ago.
Cora comes back home in the summer, she remembers that. Before she left herself she’d see her now and again, in her mother’s opulent garden or sitting in the park. It’s her first summer in the city and she understands. Melting and claustrophobic in the city’s metal bones, she wishes she could go—not home, not there, somewhere else, anywhere else. Only living’s easier now that they don’t have to pay the heat, and Orpheus is playing his virtuoso songs at a hotel bar on Park Ave and they give him water between songs, bring it to her for free every night with a twist of lemon and a monogrammed napkin underneath. He should be in Carnegie Hall, but they have an apartment to pay for and he’s here. The heat sits on her chest like a gargoyle in the night, her skin so sticky she wants to peel it off. She tells him so one night as he taps softly along the length of her spine, as still as he ever is. I could be a dancing skeleton, she says, we could be a perfect double act, we’d never lack an audience ever again, and he shakes his head and said, Don’t say that, I love you in your skin, in just your skin, like this.
She’d thought of Cora the first city girl returning to her green hometown, her bright head bobbing up and down the street and catching the light. Always in a white dress, or green, when she was being a daughter, high-collared and bare-handed and naked round the neck, though Eurydice’d see her at the bus stop in drop-waist silks and paste gems. Somewhere along the line in the city the gems stopped being paste, too. Eurydice saw her once in the winter and she was in Russian sables, skin like the snow against the soft black collar.
Cora’s in love with the king of the underworld. Or he’s in love with her. It’s a semantic difference that never makes it into the papers. One way or the other, it doesn't matter in the pictures of them in black and white, her lips painted dark against the white of his cheek. Her life in the city has a gunshot smell, a liquor harshness in the back of the throat. She’s not a nice girl anymore, if she ever was.
Eurydice tosses and turns in the heat, nestles against the humming crook of Orpheus’s neck. It sounds like a dream, a cheap fiction when she thinks about it too hard, but then again, so does this. To make it real, she just has to keep moving forward, not looking back.
There’s a day when he’s out where she steals over to the piano in his place. Even with him out she feels like she’s transgressing. She puts her fingers to the keys and can hear her own clumsiness, stark in a room that’s not heard bad music in a good long time. Her sour notes linger even when she’s shut the lid again, when she’s tucked back over on the couch.
On another day she tries to lay lyrics to one of his musical lines, one of the few that’s lying round written down. She can remember how it sounds from the start, without needing him to play it for her, which is good. She wants to surprise him. Only the poem she tries to write won’t come together, not even in her head, never mind on the paper. She stutters over the notes, the clichés that offer themselves up to her: it’s a love song, sure, gotta be a love song (he wrote it for her, I just want to give it back equal, she thinks), but what’s the use of singing baby when this chord, pianissimo, is low and sweet as a lover’s whisper, what needs honey when this line, legato, runs warm and hot and liquid-sweet under your skin better than any metaphor. She gives it up. Even he doesn’t bother much with his lyrics. Can pull them out when he needs them but often as anything one of his songs will be in his mouth when he’s in the kitchen with her and he’ll sing into the mundane moment—my love is boiling water, there’s a wrinkle in my lover’s skirt. She crumples all her rhymes. Greets him later with a kiss and asks him: “Honey, play me the sweet one, the one you were trying last night? I want to hear that one again.”
It’s better that way. Poems are for schoolgirls. The music is his, and when the time hangs heavy, her worries over her own lack of creation, she can hum a song that carries her name.
She’s a better dancer than she ever was a singer or a musician, but she never wants to dance to his music. The tempo won’t settle one way or the other, fast or slow, stiff or sensual, and her hips and toes won’t live up to his fingers no matter what. He improvises. She can’t.
Sure, and sometimes she misses it—that’s the thing she misses, instead of just wants. Misses learning mazurkas and foxtrots in the ballroom with ten or twenty neighbors’ children all just her age and wearing the same clothes, when she lets herself miss anything: that, she was good at. They told her how to move and she practiced until she’d got it, and once she’d got it it wouldn’t leave her. That’s not natural, it’s not the same thing as the beautiful boy at the piano with his head bowed and honey coming from the keys, but it’s a kind of skill all the same. She thinks she could be good at any dance you asked her to put her mind to. Even the ones they do in the back-alley basements and clubs, with the girls on the splintered stages, their heels high, their stocking seams bared all the way up the back of their thighs. There’s a rhythm in that she wonders if she could master. She misses music simple enough to tap her toes to, but only in silence. When he’s playing, she doesn’t have the space in her soul to miss a thing. He’s better than all the others. She knows that, in her bones, the bones that go liquid when he plays because there’s no other possible response.
It’s night at home when the weather’s starting to change and he’s playing something sexy and sad, fingers of one hand idling over the same chord again and again, and she stretches next to the piano, her arms in the air. She tries to make her body work in tribute. Keeps her arms in the air, lets her fingers twitch, her hips slide. The musical line simplifies, narrows. She opens her eyes and he’s looking at her with his hands still playing thoughtless perfection on the keys. His expression is neither loving nor not, just plain curious.
“What’re you doing?” he asks, really interested, and it occurs to her that he’s never seen her dancing. Only sitting, rapt and frozen in place. If she hasn’t danced in a while, then it’s her own fault, maybe. She blushes and looks down at her turned-in toes, lowers her hands. Shivers and crosses her arms across her chest. It’s just starting to get cold.
“Just shaking out the aches in my shoulders.”
“Your back hurts?” He slides down the piano, letting his fingers skid across the keys and make them trill. Makes room for her on the piano bench. “C’mere.”
She sits and he gathers her hair in one hand, the other taking longer to mosey off the keys. His long fingers press into the knots under the nape of her neck and she shivers and goes still. Eventually even the music stops, and there’s only the hitch of her breath in the room.
Next day she goes out without leaving a note. She’ll be back before evening, she tells herself.
She didn’t count on it, but when she knocks on the black door with the big brass guard-dog knocker, fingers resting on the middle of the dog’s three snarling heads, Cora answers herself. The door’s only cracked partway. She looks Eurydice up and down through the narrow space. “Well, well,” she says. “You’re a hometown girl, is that right?”
“I’m Eurydice,” she says, “and I live here now.” Cora laughs a big wicked laugh that echoes in the doorway, in whatever’s behind her. It’s dark in there, though Eurydice catches hints of gold. Maybe she should have started smaller, but there’s no other place she’d be willing to go.
Cora doesn’t invite her inside. Instead, she says, “Let me get my coat.”
“I was hoping—” Eurydice looks behind her and Cora shakes her head.
“Oh no, honey. Doesn’t matter who you are. We go to neutral ground first.”
Cora comes out in a black satin suit, stockings sheer and dark on her legs, colored only by a pair of red satin pumps and her hair. Eurydice remembers her hair closer to gold, but it’s deep red here, red as her rouge-bright mouth. There’s a string of cut rubies at her neck, under the collar of her blouse, stones winking red and sharp. Summer’s only just over, but her skin is transfixingly white.
“Where’s he?” Eurydice can’t help but asking, and Cora laughs again. Her walk’s a step ahead, and Eurydice’s half-running to keep up.
“He’s got bigger fish to fry.” Eurydice’s heart goes lighter at it. There’s fear here, but it’s less without him around. It must be plain on her face: Cora gives her a funny sort of smile. "He trusts me," she says. "To come and go as I please. All marriages are the same at the heart. That's the one contract you need: the promise that you will both leave, and both come back, and both love in the same measure when you return as when you left. Otherwise it's no marriage at all."
Cora takes her to a hotel bar she’s almost certain she’s been in before, almost sure she’s watched Orpheus touch their mahogany Broadwood with delicate ecstasy. There’s a piano player there now, playing a gentle version of “You Go To My Head”, but he fades far into the background soon as can be. He’s nothing special. The maître’d takes a look at Cora and ushers them both into the next room, and the next. They settle in a curved booth behind a frosted-glass screen, the two of them at a wide round table in an empty room. The booth is plush, cushions fat at Eurydice’s back. Strange, solitary time to be out, now. Half past three in the afternoon. Not quite dinner, barely still lunch. “They’ll bring you anything you ask,” promises Cora, and Eurydice stutters, small-feeling in her seat, the empty room.
“No need for that.”
“What d’you want me to call you?”
“Cora Persephone’s good enough.”
She’s changed her name, which isn’t surprising. Not to his, which maybe is. It’s for show, bright and dark as that ruby necklace. She offers it with a smile and an arched plucked eyebrow, and Eurydice nods and looks down and says nothing at all.
“You’re not eating anything?”
“No. Are you?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, honey. I’m a picky eater these days. What’d you come for, anyway?”
Eurydice’s not sure how to answer. Her tongue is thick in her mouth, and Cora tilts her head. Takes a cigarette out of her purse, puts it in a thin black holder, lights it carelessly against the candle on the table. “Speak up. You can’t be a complete mouse if you came by all on your own. You’re the one who took up with the musician, isn’t that right?”
Eurydice nods again, and this time her heart’s strong in her chest. He’s an easy question to answer. “You know him?”
“Never heard him play, but I know all about him. Should be playing under a spotlight, I hear, or at least for a long line of girls in feather and lace on a stage who shake and shine with every stroke of the keys, but he’s not, is he? He’s playing for anyone who’ll give him a little money and writing songs about his wife. Wife, is it? He make an honest woman out of you?”
Her voice is musing, curious. Slow. Eurydice shakes her head. “We live honest,” she says shortly. He wouldn’t play for you, she wants to say. Not for a bootlegger, when he won’t sample any of their wares. Not with his strange abstinent streak, She thinks of the night before, how little he ate, and cuts off her thoughts; she’s being absurd, bitter and fearful and strange. Winter’s never been her best season, and she can feel this one coming early.
“He must be some kind of fool."
“An artist,” Eurydice says, and Cora Persephone says, “Yes. Like I said, some kind of fool.
“Are you here to ask me about that?” she asks. “The artist’s wife, or his muse? They’re the practical ones, I find. Ones like you, like us.”
Cora Persephone quirks an eyebrow, blows smoke. “Why, then? Feeling nostalgic?”
“No.” Not that, never that. She has to keep going forward, even though she doesn’t quite know where she’s leading. Cora Persephone’s watching and she doesn’t know what to say.
Cora Persephone takes her measure with closed lips. A waiter comes by before she can open them. “Can I offer you something to drink, ladies?”
“A glass of water’s fine,” Eurydice begins, but Cora Persephone shakes her head.
“Something stronger, I think.”
Cora Persephone holds her gaze when he leaves. He comes back soon with two short glasses of clear liquor: on the house and tell your husband thanks. She takes one and Eurydice with shaky fingers follows.
“This is my husband’s brew for me,” she says. “Isn’t it nice to have things made special, just for you?”
Her eyes are bright and canny. She leans in and clinks her little glass with a careless gesture against Eurydice’s. Despite her carelessness, she doesn’t spill a drop. She takes it back in one gulp and Eurydice can only follow. It blooms on her tongue and in her throat and its heat vines out from the center of her, to her fingertips, to her toes. Pomegranate on her tongue, she thinks, and a blade in her throat, harsh but finely honed.
That night Orpheus’s songs are bright and frantic and the heat, the dark glory of the heat, has died inside her, leaving a soft ache pulsing at her temples. His music is a smashed stained-glass window, bright and glorious and jagged and—“What’s this one, honey?” she asks, sweetly, swallowing, and he turns to her and his eyes have that terrible brightness in them when he turns to her but his gaze slides off her swift as water and he is at once at the mercy of the piano again.
“It’s going to come out one way or the other. This is a long one. It’s been at me all day.”
She bites her lip inside her mouth. Goes into the kitchen, swallows a glass of rusty water, comes back out and he’s on the same three-chord progression, altering it slightly every time. “I liked that moment, with the minor,” she says, and he shakes his head, doesn’t look up.
“It’s not finished and it’s not coming out right.”
“Are you coming to bed?” she asks. “Can I make you a cup of tea?”
“No,” he says. “Later.”
He’s not looking at her. She wants to take his head in her hands, draw her fingers through his tangled curls, draw his face between her breasts and quiet him, but he’d never forgive her if she broke him off now.
In the bedroom, she looks up at the ceiling and listens to the song take shape, keen and wild even through the thin wall. She doesn’t make it to the end before she falls asleep.
She puts on a sweater the next day and goes to meet Cora Persephone, who smiles like she was expecting her and takes her to the same hotel. This time she asks.
“Why did you come to me?”
“I wanted to go out dancing.”
Cora Persephone laughs. “Why didn’t you come at night?”
“I didn’t mean to bring him along.”
“Now that’s a funny thing.” Cora Persephone sucks at her cigarette, lips round and red against the holder. “Doesn’t he like to dance?”
“He plays more than he listens, and I wanted to learn first anyhow.”
“Now, are we talking the kind of dancing that’d have you two the floor or the kind of dancing that’d have you alone on the stage?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Eurydice says with sudden sharp kneejerk primness, a kind of conspicuous embarrassed warmth roiling hot in her belly, and the waiter cuts them off with two clear drinks, not even asking this time. We’re grateful to your husband. He’s a fine man, you know.
“Isn’t it funny the things they think to say?” Cora Persephone says with a sly twist of her mouth and lifts her glass.
Orpheus is at the piano when she gets home, home just a little early. Her heart beats like a bird at the back of her throat and she comes in talking: “I wanted to go out for flour and then, silly me, I was just at the corner store when I remembered we had a whole other packet in the back of the cupboard—”
“I missed you,” he says above a swelling crescendo, and when it dies down, “I miss you."
“I’m right here,” she says. She goes up behind him and puts her arms around his neck, careless for a moment of the alcohol bite on her tongue, and he doesn’t move in her arms, the knowledge that he’d forgive her melting swiftly into the knowledge that he’s not going to notice. His shoulders are hunched to his ears and his arms are splayed, fingers in violent sprawl on the keys, and the sound is ecstatic but it makes her feel hollow and sick, scraped out to make room for those booming swells and chords. “I’m right here,” she says again with her mouth at his ear, her teeth on the edge of his ear. “Are you going to kiss me?”
“Later,” he says, leaning in slightly, thin chest pressing against her forearms. She goes slack around him and he spreads his arms, not quite like he’s knocking her off but she’s knocked off all the same. She stands with her breasts pressed to his back, her hands resting in surrender on his shoulders, feeling ridiculous, feeling a climbing aching sorrow in her bones, but maybe that’s just the song.
“Don’t you want to kiss me?”
“I want to kiss you always,” he says, I want to kiss you more than anything, she hears with her cheek and her ear resting on the top of his head, “but I can’t now,” oh, he can’t, and she feels the great swelling weight of tonight’s melody shaking through his whole body, he can’t lose it, it’d never forgive him.
“You’ll forgive me, won’t you?” he asks, and the motions of his fingers slow to an unbearable plink—plink—as he looks up at her, and her mouth is so near his, and he stretches his neck up and catches her mouth against his, his teeth harsh against her lower lip, the kiss sudden and wet and dirty and she parts her mouth and lets in his tongue and swift abject hot want swells inside her body like hot blown glass, she cups his cheeks—
Just as fast, he closes his mouth and pulls back. “You’ll forgive me,” he says, a statement this time, half satisfaction, half fear. “You’ll forgive me,” he says again and again to himself and the piano, and she’s disappeared once more although she is just as she was. Her hands hover in the air above his face, above the crown of his head, empty.
She goes to bed on an empty stomach, hands hovering but not touching between her legs, and from the other room, the music keeps playing. Its echo is thick in the room when she wakes up. The bed is undented next to her, but when she gets up she walks past the piano and lays her fingers, slow and shivering, down against the bench. It’s still a little warm.
She takes the drink with Cora Persephone and it bites like a snake at the back of her tongue and she says, reckless, “I wish I could bring him along." She feels her bones going slack in the heat of her blood. "Wish I could give him some of this.”
“Why don’t you?”
It’s the third one of the evening. She drank once for him and once for herself and this last time she doesn’t know what she was doing it for. She had to toast silently to the woman across the table, wreathed in sable and smoke. “He wouldn’t take it. Doesn’t like it. Wants to keep his voice, and the songs in his head. Won’t take anything against it, against anything."
Cora Persephone taps her cigarette against the ashtray. “Artistic purity.”
Eurydice scoffs like she never would have scoffed to his face. In the silence here it’s easy not to think of the music, of only his body, the thin bones shivering against hers, the empty shape of him in her bed, the frenzy in his eyes. She kissed his eyelids three nights back and could almost taste it, could feel his eyes darting beneath. “Are you all right?” she’d asked and he had swallowed her up in that big darting hungry look: I’m only getting better, don’t you hear? And she had not, and she had said show me instead and brought his palm to the hollow of her stomach and felt his fingers spread beneath the edge of her shirt. I love you so much, he’d said to her the minute he’d felt skin under his hand, inhaling hard, and he looked up at her: You really didn’t hear a difference?
Cora Persephone reaches out to touch her cheek and Eurydice starts; Cora Persephone’s hand is hard under her chin. Her thumb makes a brisk harsh motion above Eurydice’s cheekbone, below her eye—were there tears there? Eurydice didn’t notice—and looks at her for a long time. Finally she curls her lips in a coy pursed sort of smile, though it doesn’t reach her eyes, and calls her a poor lightweight darling, flags down the waiter. “I’d like your host to make me a phone call,” she says, and to Eurydice, “Let’s get ourselves a room. Have you ever been upstairs?”
Of course she hasn’t. Cora takes her by the elbow through the lobby, the red carpet and gold walls and crystal chandelier, and brings her to the elevator, which is the same pearly marble colors as the lobby and the restaurant. Takes her up and up to the uppermost floor where she brings her to a door at the end of the hall. “They’ve saved us a suite here, my husband and I. The things you get used to,” and she shakes her head more to herself than to Eurydice.
She opens the door and turns on the light. The suite is red as a pomegranate heart. Eurydice sits down tentatively on the bed. It’s gone dark out. Cora Persephone draws the blinds. Then she goes over to the gramophone, which waits in the corner right next to a stuffed red arm-chair. She puts on a record, lets the needle crackle into place. A man’s rich voice rolls into the room, velvet under static.
“Let’s see you dance,” she says.
Amidst the sloppy liquor looseness inside her, Eurydice’s heart coils up tight. Not here, she thinks, not like this, and she thinks, she’s going to protest or buy time, and she asks, “How?”
“Not like that,” says Cora Persephone. “Take off the church clothes, for one.”
The protesting part shrivels on her tongue, just where it ought to be coming out louder than ever. “Why?” she says, is all she can say, and Cora Persephone shakes her head, all amusement and red ringlets.
“Can’t move like that. I want to get a look at what you can do.”
She doesn’t say no. She didn’t get here by saying no. Her fingers shake as she reaches up to undo the buttons of her pressed white blouse, as she unhooks the back of her dark blue skirt and lets it fall to the floor. She’s wearing an old cream slip underneath, sateen worn thin from a thousand washes. The lace at the hems is pulling, and one of her garter snaps is twisted crooked. She’d be transparent if it wasn’t for her imperfections, she thinks. She bends down to unsnap the ankle strap of her shoe, the pale brown leather like a mudded-up version of her slip, of her skin, but Cora Persephone says, “No, leave those. You can’t dance without heels.”
So she stands and the man sings and secondhand piano comes filtering through the record’s crackle. In spite of herself, she can pull out the time signature of the song. It bypasses her head, her thoughts, and goes straight to her wrists and her hips and her waiting feet. Cora Persephone smiles with teeth, white and hard and joyous against her painted lips. She slips out of her thin-heeled pumps and sits back in the red armchair, settling, watchful, enthroned.
A knock rattles the door. Just one knock, and Eurydice goes dead still. When she looks to Cora Persephone, she doesn’t get a look back; Cora Persephone’s standing and then the door is opening, the knock a courtesy only. The needle knocks into static stillness, and Cora Persephone’s in the doorway, suddenly so small in her stockinged feet. Eurydice can’t get a look at the man in front of her for a long while. Only the way Cora Persephone slides those stockinged feet onto his dark, shining shoes, only the way she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls herself up against him. Eurydice sees him in outline: black coat, black gloves, black hat, all that dark wrapping around Cora Persephone in a shadowed second.
Then he sees Eurydice and her bones go hollow, her skin prickles cold under her slip, though it’s warm as a beating heart in the room and she’s used to colder, to less. She spends half her life half-bare in the apartment, like it’s a kind of shared habit: Orpheus forgets to wear full outfits when he works, will go about in trousers and one sock, and the casual vulnerability of it touched her heart in a way she wanted to equal. To him she offers herself up bare because he likes her bare and to be bare for him because she likes to be bare for him. So she wears slips and shirts and bare legs and bare feet until it starts to snow, even though it’s cold shocking early this year and she feels cold like desperation creeping up her spine in the empty bed, clenching at the back of her neck and biting at the soft backs of her knees. Now the cold’s followed her here and the vulnerability’s not an accident and not a gift. She’s a plucked chicken under the lord of the underworld’s dark cold assessing gaze, all the more frightening because there’s no lust at all in it.
“Honey, don’t scare the girl,” says Cora Persephone, kissing the carved bone edge of his cheek. She disentangles herself. Eurydice’s demurring, voice running on ahead of her frozen body, she’s saying I’m sorry and her hands aren’t reaching for her skirt, she’s saying I can’t and her feet aren’t stepping an inch one way or the other. “You can, you will, don’t you apologize for a thing,” Cora Persephone says firmly. “You asked to be here, and you have to be here for both of us if we’re going to agree that you’re good.”
“I’m no good,” Eurydice pleads, “just average—” She just loves good, that’s what’s on the tip of her tongue, and the look in Cora Persephone’s eyes is so quelling she swears she heard it.
“Not so fast, babe. You can’t go back once you’ve gone down.”
Her hips swing a path back through the room, and the lord of the underworld shuts the door with a final sound. Like she’s lowering a guillotine blade, slow and loving and mortal, Cora Persephone draws the needle back into place.
Eurydice squeezes her eyes shut. The music legislates her body and she listens to it, compliant to it before anything else.
Cora Persephone claps when she’s done, from the lord of the underworld’s lap. “Come home with us,” she says.
“I have to tell him—”
“Babe, you don’t. Won’t it be nice to have a night all yourself?”
Cora Persephone takes her hand.
They leave her clothes on the floor; the lord of the underworld offers her his coat over her slip, which feels like wool to the touch but wears like black lead against her shoulders, heavy as anchors, as worlds. He doesn’t seem to feel the cold outside. They take his dark Town Car to get back to the building Eurydice went that first day, and this time, Cora Persephone’s hand in hers, she goes inside. Down a dark set of stairs, where down at the bottom there’s another door, which she unlocks with a silver key she pulls from her brassiere. He holds the door and she pulls Eurydice inside, into the slap of music and the stink of booze. The noise echoes, a huge and hollow roar of jazz and conversation; the room is swallowingly large and overwhelmingly black. Black marble bar, black marble floor, black marble tables with dark velvet seats, black stage with a floor like a scuffed black mirror. Gilt accents on everything. Eurydice’s afraid lay her hand on a thing—to touch the gilt, to leave fingerprints on the black, to lay a single finger on an inch of that opulence. The lord of the underworld disappears into the black. Eurydice keeps her hand in Cora Persephone’s, who leads her to the edge of the bar nearest the stage. There are girls on the stage with grey satin flowers in their hair, their bodies moving in time like a river. “Two fingers,” she hears Cora Persephone say behind her.
“Two coins, shouldn’t you be saying?” the bartender asks, and she hears the clink of change.
“Will that be me?” she asks, staring at the stage. The girls’ heads tilt toward her like they’ve heard her, necks moving as one, but their eyes are closed. Their lips are all the same amount of parted, of abandoned.
“S’pose so,” Cora Persephone says, half-indifferently. She hands Eurydice a glass of something-or-other—it’s better here, Eurydice hears her say, feels the slick cool of the glass in her fingers, though she can’t look down. “There’s all sorts of shows we do. Take it."
“Take a sip. Flatter me, c’mon. He makes this brew just for me.”
The pomegranate again, but hotter and stronger, fruit and fire in a room of ash. She gasps, It’s good, the venom burn in the back of her throat, and Cora Persephone’s telling her Won’t you take off your coat, put it on that stool, he’ll find it when you fancy, and the prudent part of her’s saying close your legs, hide your breasts, you’re a good girl, shouldn’t you be ashamed? and the loving part of her’s saying where is he, where is he, all this would be fine if he had his hand on your shoulder, if he was looking at you from the piano, if he was stroking the piano like it was you and you were waiting for him and just plain biding your time, and all those voices go silent. “You got a telephone?” she asks thinly and Cora Persephone just laughs.
“Not for you, babe. See how you feel tomorrow. You’re here now, just you,” and Cora Persephone’s satin-gloved hand slides onto Eurydice’s knee like it’s just another piece of her kingdom.
She doesn’t want to forget. Still, she puts her cheek on Cora Persephone’s shoulder, and the fur feels just wonderful against her skin.
First thing next day she wakes up in a narrow bed, touches the wall like she can read the whispers on the other side. Can’t make ‘em out. Puts a hand to her head and remembers Cora Persephone laying her down, stroking her hair, taking out the pins, careful and sure-handed. Thinks: I should telephone him. At the bar, anywhere. Let him know.
She walks out into the hallway outside her room, looks at the door next to hers and sees it’s beautiful and covered with dark lilies, theirs. No wonder she couldn’t make the whispers out. She walks back to the bar from a surprisingly labyrinthine web of back rooms—was it always this large?—and runs into Cora Persephone in a silk kimono the color of orchid petals on their fleshy underside, that purple.
“You slept so sound,” Cora Persephone says. “So heavy. One shot and you were out like a light.”
“Two, maybe. Babies. Thimblefuls.”
“I want to call him,” Eurydice says.
“He trust you that little?” Cora Persephone smiles, devastatingly sweet, not yet wearing her lipstick, and Eurydice is quiet.
She doesn’t go home that night. Cora Persephone puts her on the stage before the bar opens—runs her through a set of steps in a brisk, frank new language: box-step, shoulder-drop—but takes her off before the spotlight’s turned on and the greasepainted girls run out to line up in graceful symmetry on the stage. She sits next to Cora Persephone at the bar that evening in borrowed ivory fringe and her own torn stockings, shivering in the perpetual cold of the bar. Cora Persephone, in furs, wraps an arm around her shoulder and she sucks down that pomegranate venom until her blood burns, and the cold inches off until it’s something she can get used to.
Next morning, there’s a ratatat knocking on the door and the bartender comes to collect her, that Charon, that’s his name, handing her a thin grey dress and telling her get in line. She’s at work.
She stays there.
Onstage she’s in a long line of girls in thin grey slips and she dances like she’s known the steps all her life. Doesn’t stand out. That’s all right. Means she’s doing her job. Cora Persephone comes by here and there, now and again, pinching a hip and tweaking a curl, her soft white fingers slipping against the curve of Eurydice’s cheek, like that thing she says when none of the other girls can hear: we’re so glad to have you, darling. We’re both of us, all of us, so glad to have you here, with a proprietary gleam of in her eyes that belongs only to her.
“I want to call him,” she says the next day, a soft reminder, and Cora Persephone tuts, not forbidding, only chiding: aren’t you busy, though?
She feels the ache in her ankles, the shaken exhausted weight of her hips, and her need to speak goes pale: even now she doesn’t want him to see her, hear her, when she’s less than her best.
And she’s on the stage at the end of the week, in her line, her precise hands and liquid shoulders one in a long line, and the warmth of the light and the comfort of repeated motion and the biting on-the-house pomegranate moonshine blur the memory of the thing waiting for her, the empty bed, the endless ghosts of kisses and songs. Music is loud in the club, it echoes off the obsidian walls, and soon enough, she’s not thinking about anything at all.
It’s not a fall: it’s a firm, steady descent toward a room where she can lay her head in peace. She sleeps hard, thorough, wakeless, like she hasn’t since she was a young girl in the country. In this room, in this shadowland, in this dark cold club and its white-hot stage, she is here for herself, and she sleeps hard in her bed once she is alone in her room, the sleep of the drugged and the damned and the blessed.
Just once, one sober accident of a night, she hears a late-hour soundscape come whispering through the walls: soft, musicless thump-and-groan, dark male sounds and high female gasps. She bites her knuckles, hard, lies aggressively still on her thin cot under her thin blanket, a symphony of shivers under her skin. Later, an hour later, she’s still not sleeping, and there’s a soft scratch on her door. She gives the sound a muzzy Mm? in response, and Cora Persephone slips in, little heels scratching on the floor, holding the lapels of her bathrobe over her collarbones with one hand.
“I'm not sleeping,” she says. Sits down on Eurydice’s little bed, runs a hand over Eurydice’s under-the-covers spine like she’s touching well-loved furniture. “Thought I heard a little bird on the other side of the wall?”
“I thought I was being quiet,” Eurydice says, and the queen of the underworld laughs. She’s got reason to laugh. This is a kingdom of shadows; the quiet is taken into account far more than the noise. Eurydice’d blush—an older version of Eurydice’d blush, that is, but this one’s having a hard time remembering how, or why. Her cheeks linger relentlessly pale, and cool to the touch.
Cora Persephone touches her cheek again, that way she does, with her cool colorless fingertips, scratching with a bright red nail. Her nails smell like there’s blood in the beds, those fingertips a little warmer than usual, and she smiles as Eurydice looks at her hands. Not all the sounds she heard sounded like pleasure. Not all of them sounded sweet. All of them sounded dark and hungry, though, equal and private and strange, no matter how well she thought she understood the mechanics of body on body, the canvases of bare skin.
“It’s the marriage bed, baby." Cora Persephone drags down her nail, gently slow, just a little too sharp. "We like what we like. You were on the brink of that, weren’t you? Didn’t you know all your love's strange hungers, didn’t he know all of yours?”
“He just loved me,” Eurydice says. Her voice is small in the room. Cora Persephone raises a thin line of a brow.
“Maybe not so close after all, then.”
“You don’t think that’s enough?”
“You want to go back already?”
Eurydice is silent. Cora Persephone’s deep-red thumbnail traces the curve of her lower lip. “The only way you get anything is by wanting it, hard and out loud,” she says.
“You’ve been awful kind—I just think I should let him know where I am.”
“He’ll find you.” She gives a queen’s shrug, the slippery silk of her bathrobe shifting. A long expanse of white shoulder and neck slides out from under the dark wine shine. “Or he won’t. You afraid?”
Another Eurydice would be—the country girl. But the city girl that came after learned to be fearless by loving a man, and when fear came into their bed, love kicked her into forward motion once more. She’s not going to be afraid for a long time. She’ll run down and down until sleep comes easy, every time.
Eurydice shakes her head, and the queen of the underworld smiles, eyes bright and appraising even in the shadows of the room. She looks Eurydice over, once-twice, taking stock of her, and then leans in.
She’s kissing Eurydice because she can, Eurydice knows this. Can taste it in the dark wicked alcohol bite of her tongue, can see it in the jaguar light of her eyes. This kingdom’s hers, and everyone in it. (The rooms get bigger, the halls get longer, the floor’s more crowded every day. The kingdom’s not a joke: the longer Eurydice stays, the more shadows and corners she can count, until she can’t any more.) She smells like French perfume even now, something hothouse over the ghost of sex gone cold. There is a constancy to her, frozen in time and place and immaculate self-surety. Her teeth sink slow and grazing into Eurydice’s lower lip.
When she draws back, she gives Eurydice a look that is part pride and part, nearly, love. He wouldn't do this. This is hers. Eurydice is hers. It is good to have a place, Eurydice thinks, ridiculously. Good to be part of something, good to belong. She draws a hand down Eurydice’s arm, in a way that makes the skin prickle, touches Eurydice’s palm with her fingertips and draws it into the gap of her robe. Sloughs a shoulder from the silk and holds Eurydice’s hand over the cool second satin of her skin, her nipple under Eurydice’s fingertips fruit-red and already stiff in the air.
She unties the sash and her robe falls in a puddle on the bed behind her, leaving just her bare on the bed, the white violin of her body and the harsh song of her breath. She leans in again. Eurydice opens her mouth under the queen’s, and the last relics of old-world shame slip away from her into the night, leave her for a lighter place.
The band is playing a mediocre Ellington riff but it’s all right, the girls on stage move to the Morse code of the drums and the liquid fact of the sax, and the notes and melody between hardly matter at all when the song’s bred into their bones, made solid under their skin.
Eurydice watches herself onstage from the stage, her mind somewhere in the audience as her body moves and slides and shakes with the shape onstage. Her leg, one of a hundred legs lifts, her skirt slides high on a hundred thighs, and her ankle is one of a hundred shadow-bones tipping at a right-angle, drawing a lazy circle on the stage. Lentanto, she thinks—who said that?
The song ends and the applause warms her body back into itself, reminds her that she has a body to call her own. She tucks an ankle behind the other and curtsies as a mirror and a shadow, stands as the others stand and turns her face toward the back of the head of the girl-shape on her left, nose close to the grey nosegay in her bun. There’s asphodel tucked behind her own ears, its scent thick and perfume-dusty in her nose, whiting out the reek of sweat and paint and thinner on the stage. She has a body now and it takes stock of the room, remembers to have a throat and a dry one at that. She follows the girl off the stage, another hard at her heels and another hard at hers, and then the line breaks at the bottom of the stairs and she’s a shapeless piece of the crowd once more. She shifts magnetically toward the bar, making music out of the tune-thrum and conversation-roar between songs. The beat’s straightforward. Belongs to her as she walks, heels tapping on the obsidian floor.
Charon pours her a drink, looks at her with dark, sad eyes. He’s never said a word to her, but tonight, he says: “T’you, Eurydice.”
“Why’s that?” she asks and takes her first shot of the evening, hands him her empty glass for another. Hardly feels a thing now. Her blood should always be this warm: it waits, cool, for this exact moment, when the shine goes down. Turns toward the stage: still empty. Strange. There’s always someone or other up there. But the curtain’s drawing, now, like the stage is holding its breath.
“You got two coins on you, kid?”
“Course not.” Her money’s in her room. There’s nothing under her grey slip, only flowers above and garters below. The country would blush and the lover would shiver; this girl is neither cold nor hot.
“Don’t know how he’s gonna pay his way,” Charon sighs, hard, and leaves for the other side of the bar before she can ask, who, why, why’d I care?
A chord rings on the piano and the air goes still.
It’s not music she can dance to: she’s sensible to this first. It paralyzes her on the barstool, same as it did that first night, the slow honey of the melody working up from her ankles to between her thighs and higher, climbing to her heart. You are shaped like this song, calls the song, even before he starts to sing.
And he starts, soon enough, with the lyrics, and the great roar of the room is listening to him sing her body into being in the lines of his verse, sing her name that rhymes with come-back-to-me. She listens, frozen on the barstool, melting on his tongue.
Save me, she thinks, and looks at the heart of the room, at Cora Persephone, who listens with her chin tipped up, her hand white and twined up in her husband’s dark-gloved knuckles. Her eyes are brighter than usual, but not so hard. Too bright, old-lover bright. Her husband’s face is obscured in the shadow of his hat, but hers is white and clear in the heart of the room, drunker than usual, glowing. A tear tracks through the powder on her cheek. Not, Eurydice thinks, for Eurydice.
Save me, she thinks, and looks at the stage. His sleeves are rolled up. His eyes are clear, shoulders set thin but level. No matter how hard she tries to think on top of it, the melody lines the background of her thoughts like a tapestry on the wall, bright and colorful even when she’s squinting too hard to see the picture, even when he’s repeated her name so many times that it stops sounding like a word. Eurydice, Eurydice. His voice is angelic, untainted in the smoky room.
Save me, she thinks to herself with scorn. Save him.
Not until the song is done, though. Not until she can move—and the room cracks wide open with applause. He tucks his head down, chin into the hollow of his neck, not smiling.
Eurydice gets up and feels herself slide seamless into the crowd. Looks up at the stage and sees his eyes casting around for her, slipping over the greys between the black-and-white suits, the fringe. The queen waves him on down. He’s not likely to see anything else, then, not for a good long while, not against the red ruby coronation of her hair, brighter than anyone’s satin, anyone’s jewels. Eurydice sees the lord of the underworld rise, kiss Cora Persephone's white knuckles, draw one of his dark gloved hands down the slope of her spine and sees her eyes close. Watches him retreat and disappear in that melting black way of his, the chosen shadow of his motion, and moves in, ears pricked, only when he's gone. The crowd is thick against her hips and elbows, moving like its own ocean in the room. She slides along it, in it, until her back’s to the table. Her feet trip without music to take her along. The song’s still buzzing on her lips, even without a beat. His song, her name, a beehive under her tongue: EurydiceEurydiceComebacktomeEurydice.
One table over she stops and stands still and listens harder than she’s ever listened in her life. She’s been training for this, this moment of acute silence, of other people’s words. For this moment, she’s thankful for the grey.
“That was beautiful,” Cora Persephone says, her husband gone, the justice of the room in her hands.
Of course Cora Persephone loved the song, like every woman in the audience loved the song, like every man did. Eurydice thinks, he sang of the shape he remembered around her, beautiful and feminine and absent. EurydiceEurydice, he sings, ComebacktomeComebacktome, and his audience turns to him like flowers to the sun, instantly briefly made of Eurydices. No wonder he can’t see her here. He’s blind with her, with the thousand versions of her that listen to him, that love him. Every listener is a Eurydice, if just for a second. The shape of her absence fits them each like a brand new dress. Better Eurydices than her.
She takes a slow, ragged breath and listens to him—not singing, now.
He says, “Where is she?”
She hears Cora Persephone laugh, the sound troubled and tripping. “Really, now,” she says, “I don’t think you heard me—I meant what I said, that was awfully good.
He says, “Where is she?”
“Beautiful boy,” Cora Persephone says. “Give me your hands. God, the calluses on these tips, the songs really do their work on that body of yours, don’t they? It’s a wonder you’re held together at all, with so much music pushing out of you.”
“She held me together,” he says, and Eurydice remembers winding her arms around those thin shoulders, how desperately he shook inside them. The man on the stage didn’t look like he’d shake at all. Didn’t look precarious, not one bit. Isn’t speaking like he’s precarious, either. “Where is she? Did you take her?”
“No one comes here by the taking,” Cora Persephone says with disgust. “She came here all on her own.”
“You did something,” he says. “She’s somewhere you’ve put her, out of reach. Where is she?”
“Wherever she likes,” Cora Persephone says. “Backstage, at the bar—”
“Not at the bar,” he says, and Eurydice slides a hand over her mouth, bites her fingertips. The song goes quiet against her teeth. “How can she live here?”
“Same as anyone,” says Cora Persephone. “With pleasure.”
Eurydice can hear her cat-grin in her voice, can see her teeth sinking into her red lip without turning around. “Come be with her,” Cora Persephone says, “with the both of us, with me,” and she bites her fingertips until she can feel the blood under her skin, the warm salt edge of it, the pomegranate edge of it and the venom deep underneath that, running like a current. Maybe that’s why Cora Persephone likes her, when it all comes down to it. Cora Persephone likes things that put bitter under the sweet: venomous things, venomous girls.
There’s no bitter under his sweet. She takes her bitten fingers from her mouth and clenches them into fists. “Don’t,” she says, turning around. “Don’t ask him that.”
She finds space at Cora Persephone’s side, at the elbow not wrapped around the king of the underworld’s shoulders. This fast, Cora Persephone doesn’t have time to brush the tear-tracks off her cheeks, the imperfections from out of her powder. This close, Eurydice can see the bitemarks in her lipstick, can remember the chapped shape of them under her tongue. She blushes, hot and angry, and says again: “Don’t ask him to stay here, Cora—”
Please butts Persephone out of the way on the tip of her tongue, but Orpheus is already looking at her. Not Cora Persephone, not anything else, with that dogged, devoted curiosity of his. “Eurydice,” he says, note-perfect, and her heart goes loud echoing the way he says it. “I’d stay here for you, you know that. Do you really like it here?”
“Good,” says Cora Persephone, glaring at Eurydice out of the corner of her eye. Her lashes are stuck together in points, tipped like needles with paint and tears. “Be quiet, Eurydice, employee negotiations don’t concern a girl like you.”
The job doesn't matter. The room diminishes around them. She reaches for him and his hand is in hers at the first second, his hand in her hand, his hand on the back of her head. He kisses her once, fast, hard, hot, crushing her hair against the nape of her neck. It would be so easy to live here, in this, in his arms, honeywarm and melody-fluid. He kisses her like the kiss is music too, kisses the girl he remade in melody; he always has.
She pulls back.
His eyes are wide, prey-bright. “You can’t stay here,” she says. She can't go back, she thinks. Only forward, and this isn't his forward. Not here. It's hard to even look at him here. She touches his cheek, slides her bitten fingertips on down to the thrumming chord of his throat. The bitemarks she made heal in the warmth of his skin.
Honey, she thinks. The world is going to tear you apart.
“You’re here,” he says insistently. She feels him shiver in her arms like he would never have shivered in the warm light of the stage, like the first dizzy symptom of a poisoning. She pulls back further.
“You have to go back. You can’t play in basements.”
"I'll live," she says, and wants to smile, and can't.
“Stay,” Cora Persephone says, pulling Eurydice back. Her nails dig deep into Eurydice’s skin, eyes edged with red. The song’s tucked up under her tongue, too: Eurydice can hear it stuck and singing under her words, the cadence of EurydiceComebacktome fitting her like one of her silks. Her hand runs, restless and possessive, over Eurydice’s arm, and Eurydice feels herself shuddering. Her bare hand holds a terrifying chill in the cold basement, fingertips slightly sticky from wiping away tears. She isn’t talking to Eurydice. “Stay with us,” she says, wearing Eurydice on her arm, lightly. "I liked you. My husband liked that I like you. And we have her."
“He’s not going to stay,” Eurydice says, and what she doesn’t say, with him standing right there, is that he can’t stay, that he’d wilt in the dark, that he’d crumple slowly in on himself with nobody to hear him but the denizens of the basement, that he’d never live off playing covers and dances. That he couldn’t stay at the piano until his fingertips bled and she wouldn’t be able to stand behind him and draw her hands, slow and gentle, through his hair.
“Don’t you want me to?” he asks, and her palms burn when he talks with the emptiness of not touching him. She loves him, the love coiled up inside her in the cage of her ribs, and she shakes her head.
“No,” she says.
“Please,” says Cora Persephone, very soft. Eurydice turns to her, love hot in her head like a fever, and shakes her head. Cora Persephone drops her arms.
“Then go, now," she says to him, "and don’t come back.”
Eurydice moves toward him, but Cora Persephone claps her hand over her elbow. “Don’t you dare,” she whispers, serrated and unsteady. “You said your goddamn goodbyes.”
So he leaves. And Eurydice stays, anchored under Cora Persephone's beautiful hands. She feels them leaving fingerprints on her like the ones left on the lord of the underworld. She thinks, each fingerprint diminishes her fear of him, of the shadows and all the shadows' men. She thinks, the longer she stays in the underworld, the less and less she will fear. She thinks, someday she will wake up fearless.
He will never be there to see that girl, and the knowledge of that digs its nails deep into her heart. But she doesn't know if he could love that girl, blushless and in perpetual motion and potentially poisonous as all night-blooming plants are. She isn't the girl in the song.
“Why would you do that?” Cora Persephone hisses when he’s out of earshot, and all the true things she could say slip further and further out of the realm of speech as he walks away, his thin hunched shoulders, his long fingers deep in his pockets. His song tingles at the back of her mind, scoring her thoughts, her name in the melody heating over her skin, making her feel like her skin’s on too tight. She thinks of the story of the man who made a woman out of his art, the way that women came to life in the end and kissed that man back with all the force of the love he put into her. The art could be selfless for the artist, the artist knew how to be selfless for the art. How lucky, she thinks. How much less cruel, in the end.
She wraps her fingers around the nearest martini, left behind by one of the king of the underworld’s friends, and presses her mouth to the freezing edge.
At the doorway, he looks over his shoulder at her. Catches her there with her mouth hot on the edge and her chin dipped in gin. Something flickers in his eyes: she can see it even here, from across the room.
The song goes sour in the back of her head, the melody jangling like she's knocked a hand onto the piano. She was always clumsy with the instruments, with the tools of what he loved best. The stark cold of the basement air creeps up with fresh consciousness behind her knees and under her dress. She sits down heavy and the martini drops on the floor, so much shattered glass and clear liquor.
She puts her face in her hands and doesn’t see him go.
Stock-still in her seat, she thinks she could cry. She doesn’t. Too many people have cried in her name tonight—Comebacktome, Comebacktome. She hasn’t the right to cry, then, not tonight. Later, maybe. Somewhere silent.
The cold is working its way into her bones. When she lifts her head, she’ll brush the last trace of gin off her hands and ask if she can have another glass.