EATING THE FLUTE My mother told me she bought the flute from a homeless man for one hundred dollars. In nineteen seventy-seven, one hundred dollars more than it is now, and even then, the flute was old. If you know instruments, it was a Gemeinhardt. If you don’t, it was solid sterling silver and so heavy and beautiful once it was cleaned from twenty years of my mother’s tarnish that I couldn’t wait to play. I was not very good at the flute. When the band played with its seventh-grade bravado, the drums shook my chair, and if I was playing the music correctly, I couldn’t hear it. If you blow hard enough, a flute will let out a strangled squeak that will sound louder than the drums and the brass. Only something that wrong could be that loud. My mother wanted me to practice, but what was the point if no one would hear me trill the note or hold it steady or not move my fingers at all. I put it away dirty and left it there. Got an after-school job instead, and started saving money. I don’t know when it started, but I know when I got involved. I got so furious at our pantry full of canned vegetables and mashed potato flakes that I demanded to be taken to the grocery store. Bought hundreds of dollars of food with my savings. We had lettuce for the first time in months. Until the next time. And the next time. And five dollars an hour for ten hours a week does not support a family of four very well, but we managed. We got by. I asked my mother, years later, what happened to the flute. That heavy, silver thing that, through no fault of its own, was never beautiful for me. She told me that she sold it. She wouldn’t tell me for how much, but: I remember a winter month with fresh tomatoes. A celebratory dinner out. A birthday cake. I wonder when, exactly, I ate the flute, and if I tasted it--if it will remember me and my mother and how we both abandoned it to blue velvet--how similar we are to the man who sold it to my mother. To whomever bought that flute: you should know it will only scream if you strangle it. If you need to eat it, it will understand. It won’t make a sound. SAY YES TO THE DRESS Pnina Tornai designs wedding dresses with sheer corsets and crystals everywhere. Not real diamonds, but nobody has ever used real diamonds, she says. My crystals are the finest stitched to white satin. Every dress is plain to begin with--then I take a girl, maybe twenty-five, twenty--seventeen if they look ready. She must only be pretty. She must be in love. Her family must display some low-grade abuse for the camera. There is a casting process. Anyway. I put them in the dress. Sometimes it takes a few different dresses, but every girl cries. When they do, it’s not a diamond, but it’s close enough to sew on. It’s strange--they typically cry again, when we take the dress from them and sell it to someone else, but those aren’t anything. Those are just wet. HIDDEN TRACK Becky, we decide, walks all from her hips. Caitlin is all knees and elbows and neck, and me--I am shoulders, like a linebacker, like I am looking for someone to headbutt. Probably because I am looking for someone to headbutt. No one is happy when they are sixteen, and we are no exception. It is midnight on a Friday, and we are not cool enough to even wonder who can buy us liquor. We are singing songs from a musical that is our life, which is not Rent, which makes us even bigger weirdos than than the theatre kids on the next swing set over, but fuck them! At least we make up for our inability to carry a tune with unabashed volume. They will get cold and go home to their big empty houses by one. And when they do, the world is ours. This is the ceremony-- It is not brave to stay out late at night in the summer, when sunlight reaches its sticky fingers late already and sunrise comes for you so early. We stay out on the shortest day of the year, in December where darkness spreads fat across our lives and the cold breathes down our necks like death itself. We want to see all of it, each other and ourselves. By two, we are using the night to both see inside of ourselves and to hide the fact that we have absconded with two grocery store shopping carts and are now riding them down the hill. By three thirty in the morning, we are all geniuses. We have invented a new genre of music and we are all singing the top forty; the radio of our joy is loud as a jackhammer. We are surprised by every minute that someone doesn't wake up and call the cops on us for being too loud or too musical or too bored or too happy in public without a permit. By morning, We have a mix cd we all share called Undertow. It is compiled from songs that make all of us cry. Every song is about something the singer can't have, or can't keep. We listen to it and remember the little, comfortable unhappiness of morning. But none of us will die from this loneliness. God knows all of us will try in our own little half-committed ways, but none of us will succeed. We will die eventually, but not from this. We will not ask each other stupid questions when we show up at school with some evidence hanging off our wrists; We just carry the tune on louder when one of us falters. Remind each other that morning is just a bearable weight. Remind ourselves we are not singing for anyone else. I walk from all points now My shoulders, my hips, my elbows and knees and throat. This is the ceremony: Think of the person who loved you before you deserved it. Think of the people who got you through the worst. You know who it is. Their name is a song you already know the words to. Hold their name in your mouth. Sing.