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Sweetbitter

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“Is your name really Sappho?” the man asked.

“Does it matter?” she said.

“I guess not.” He put down a twenty and a five and walked away with the new EP and a shirt. She rolled her eyes and felt a little hurt on the inside that he didn’t want her to sign it. He didn’t even stop to look at the zines. Sappho made really amazing zines. 

At This was onstage setting up their gear. Who knows where Anaktoria was. Probably with the members of Hera Hera, her new band. Sappho had hoped to see her. She hadn’t since the festival started and they bumped into each other, embracing and laughing but being whisked away to other tasks, not even getting to speak.

A woman with a nose ring and a studded vest sidled over to the table. People were milling about, just starting to get drunk enough to spill their beer and dance and bounce off each other.

The woman picked up “Fragments” and flipped through it.

“Do you like zines?” Sappho asked.

“I always wanted to,” she said.

“It’s never too late. I made most of these. We have a few from Catullus Press too. But mine are over here.” Sappho gestured at a few piles of mini-zines meticulously cut and folded from a single sheet of paper, and a few larger ones. “‘Fragments’ is my newest. I took a few of my notebooks of lyrics and shredded them, man. I burned the shit out of them. Then I tried to piece together what was left. For some of the songs all I had was a single word.”

The woman nodded serenely. She flipped the pages of the zine.

The first guitar riff of “Get Me A Small Lyre” interrupted their conversation. There was a burst of feedback and then Gorgo and Gongyla came in on the drums and bass.

Sapph longed to get up and dance but here she was again, alone to run her own merch table. Abanthis had run off somewhere but promised to be back before Sappho had to set up. So she kicked back in her folding chair and leaned against the cinder block wall and thought of Anaktoria.

She missed being in Sweetbitter. She missed the days where they would jam together for hours, their guitars strung like ancient lutes, writing poetry and songs and feeling every feeling. That was a long time ago. It had been kind of Anaktoria to offer to let Sappho open for Hera Hera, to promote her new zine and her new EP.

They had never been anything but friends. When their band broke up, they broke up as friends. Sappho had never even been able to tell her. She wrote it into notebooks, and burned them: art.

Anaktoria’s new band was doing well. Pitchfork reviewed their debut with high praise. They were touring with Screaming Females in the fall. They were going places.

Sappho was teaching creative writing and composition, still, at the community college, and housesitting, and reading tarot, the things you did to get by in a city that loved poets but didn’t pay them very well.

But still she sang.

At This wrapped up their first song and Andromeda clutched the mic. “Hello Ladyfest!” The crowd cheered.

“I’d like to buy this,” the woman with the nose ring said.

“Five dollars, ten with the EP.”

Gorgo played a drum breakdown. “So happy to be back on the coast! This one is called O Mother! Going out to you, Sapph! Y’all, Sappho really got this festival started back in the day and she’s playing after us, give it up for her. No really.”

Well, Andromeda is drunk, Sappho thought, but she stood up at her table and waved. She took the woman’s ten dollars and put it in her fanny pack.

At This was playing serviceably until Andromeda forgot the words to “Maidenhead.” About half the crowd noticed and started giving her some shit. Gorgo and Gongyla tried to pick it up from there. They cut their set a little short, Sappho thought. She got up: she was next. She paced until Abanthis came by to take her place. Sapph handed over the fanny pack full of dollar bills and IOUs and took off to warm up, plug in, remember that she sang, she still sang, she would sing forever, for as long as she had a heart.

***

Her gear was in the back. She snagged a bottle of water, gargled, swallowed. Turned around, saw her.

“Hey Sapph,” Anaktoria beamed.

“Hey.” Sappho felt cold and sweaty, but at the same time she was filled with the urge to burst into song.

“Need help setting up?”

Sappho looked around and shrugged one shoulder. “It’s a stripped down set. The two-string. The drum. You know. Since I’m a solo act now.”

Anaktoria pushed her blue hair back behind her ear, guiding it over her piercings, laughing softly. “Oh, I know.”

They were quiet for a minute.

“I miss it,” Anaktoria said suddenly, looking down into Sappho’s eyes. She was so tall, Sappho thought. Could encircle me with her arms. Could if she would. “I miss you.”

“I miss a lot of things,” Sappho said.

There was a beat of silence between them. Sappho held Anaktoria’s gaze until they both looked away.

“C’mon,” Anaktoria said to the ground. “Let’s get you set up.”

***

“Hi everyone,” Sappho said, her face nearly touching the mic. The crowd roared. She smiled out of one side of her mouth. “My name is Sappho and I’m going to play some songs for you.”

She played a riff on her guitar, hitting a pedal to create a loop of rippling static. “Some men say say an army, and some men say a navy, and some men say a rocketship is the most beautiful thing on this black earth,” she sang. She glanced sideways, involuntarily, and saw Anaktoria in the wings, just this side of a dingy curtain separating backstage from the audience.

Sappho took a breath. “But I say it is what you love.”

The crowd roared. So they remembered, she thought.

“This is a special guitar,” she said between songs while tuning one of the strings. “It’s based on the kithara.” She chuckled dryly, echoing. “We don’t actually know for sure what it sounded like in Ancient Greece but. Mine sounds pretty good now.” And she played a rippling chord.

The crowd howled at “Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters” and fell silent for the throbbing of “Peitho.” After “Spangled Mind” she said thank you and good night.

***

She ducked backstage, but the crowd still howled. Anaktoria was there, again, blending into the shadows in a black, flowing dress—she would look so beautiful in it on the stage, like a goddess.

“They want an encore,” she said.

Sappho blushed. “I’m the second opener. We don’t get encores. You’ll go on late.”

“You have to give the people what they want. I can help. You didn’t play ‘Violets in her Lap.’”

Sappho blushed even deeper. “That one...that one’s personal.”

“You used to play it for me.” Anaktoria stepped forward and took her hand. “Will you play it if I go out there?”

Sappho gulped. “You have to sing it with me.”

Anaktoria smiled. “Always, Sapph. Always.”